Now you see art. Now you don’t.

On a torrid June afternoon, Emma Enderby, chief curator of the Shed, and Cecilia Alemani, director and chief curator of High Line Art, walked side by side among their respective lifeguards on the West Side. of Manhattan, tracing the configuration of his first collaborative exhibition.

They were exultant.

“There is no night installation,” Alemani said. “No cranes. That’s the best of it. “

Nothing would be decided until just before the opening. “There was no need to think about engineering or weight loads,” Enderby said. “You can only spend a quiet day putting them on.”

The exhibition “The Looking Glass”, which runs from Saturday to August 29, is a show in which all of them (the sculptures that can be seen) are virtual, existing only in augmented reality or AR

Through an application developed by Acute Art, a digital art organization based in London, the viewer can point a phone to a QR code that is displayed in one of the places: the gift where “hidden” a work of art ‘virtual art. The code activates a specific sculpture that appears on the viewer’s camera screen, superimposed on the environment. (Unlike virtual reality, or VR, in which a viewer wears a device, such as glasses, AR does not require total immersion.) Most virtual art will be placed in the surrounding square. the shed, on West 30th Street, 11th Avenue, complemented by three locations on the nearby High Line.

Acute art is overseen by the exhibition’s third curator, Daniel Birnbaum, who, due to the pandemic, could only be present remotely. “The Looking Glass” is an updated and expanded version of another Sharp Art show, “Unreal City”, which opened at the South Bank in London last year and which, in the face of new lockout precautions, resurfaced in a month at home version. A teaser, featuring three of the artists from “The Looking Glass,” was presented last month at Frieze New York at the Shed.

“There’s something charming about it being secret or not fully visible,” Birnbaum said in a telephone interview. “It’s a totally invisible show until you start talking about it.”

If “The Looking Glass” doubles the feel of Pokémon Go in 2016-2017, the search will be as exciting as the find. While the title of the London iteration alluded to TS Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” in New York, the show is named after Lewis Carroll. “In‘ Alice in Wonderland ’today, the phone is the new rabbit hole,” Enderby said.

Birnbaum, a respected curator who was director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm for eight years before leaving to direct Acute Art, featured eleven artists, including well-known names – Olafur Eliasson and KAWS – and favorites from the world. ‘art with Precious Okoyomon. , winner of the Frieze Artist Award 2021, Cao Fei, Nina Chanel Abney, Koo Jeong A and Julie Curtiss. Some of his works develop over time and incorporate sound, while others are as unalterable as traditional sculptures.

Freed from plinths, they can acquire a new meaning from their unconventional contexts. Abney’s piece, “Imaginary Friend,” is a black man with a beard and flat, high-heeled shoes and band socks, who reads a book with a halo on his head. “I guess he’s a Black Jesus,” Birnbaum said. He noted that it would have a different impact if it appeared at a Washington political rally rather than on the High Line.

Eliasson, whose “Rainbow” in 2017 was a pioneering work of virtual reality, contributed a cluster of five pieces, from a series collectively titled “Wunderkammer”: a boiling ladybug, a floating rock, a cloud, a sun and a group of flowers pushing up the pavement.

“Very often, these digitized platforms are presented to us as if they were the opposite of reality, but I saw it as an extension of reality,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m a very analog artist, interested in the mix of mind and body, and my first thought is, ‘This takes your body.’ It seems escapism and open to hedonism.” On reflection, however, he concluded that since people are connected to their phones, they would aim to get there through the device in ways that would “sensitize” rather than “numb” them.

“Maybe we can get a message across the phones that the world is amazing,” he said. “As for what I hope to achieve, in what is left of public space – and High Line is a good example – there is the potential of the imaginary, the unexpected encounter, the encounter with someone you do not expect to meet and become friends. I think it’s about adding plurality and other stories to the public space. ”

Tomás Saraceno, the Berlin-based Argentine artist who worked at Eliasson’s studio early in his career, is even more determined to mix augmented reality with real life. Obsessed with ecological concerns, Saraceno is particularly in love with spiders and has founded a research organization, Arachnophilia, to study them and the architecture of their networks.

For “The Looking Glass,” he created two virtual spiders. One, to be found in the shed square, is a recreation of the spectacular Maratus speciosus, known as the Australian coastal peacock spider. The other will be in a secret Manhattan place. If you send a photo of a real spider to the Art Sharp app, your computer will respond with the location of the other virtual spider, which will also be transportable to your home. “It’s at the center of everything,” Birnbaum said. “He likes the look of the AR spider, but he cares more than you pay attention to the real spiders.”

For other artists, the possibilities of augmented reality allow for different approaches to their long-standing artistic research. Curtiss, a French artist living in Brooklyn, paints and sculpts naked women. “My job has to do with the look and what I choose to reveal and what I have to hide,” he said in a phone interview. Presented at Birnbaum by Brian Donnelly, known as KAWS, Curtiss was thrilled with the opportunity to follow this topic in a way that was not previously available to her.

In mid-June, she was still working with Agute Art computer coders to develop her piece: a naked woman with long dark hair – one of the characters she has presented in paintings – who will be located in the environment. The model is face to face. “When you try to get her around, she’ll keep dodging, so you’ll never be able to see her in front of you,” Curtiss said. “And when you get too close, you cross it. This naked woman is exposed and vulnerable, but also, like a wall, she is protected. He is playing against them. “

After the pandemic, Birnbaum suggested, the popularity of virtual representations may accelerate. “Can they do fashion shows again?” He said. “Will people travel? I see this as possibly another model for exhibitions. I could imagine that virtual reality and mixed reality will be part of a future local and global art world. I will be amazed if the art world doesn’t change a bit after closing. Maybe we’ll be a little early. “

Although Art Agut has no profits so far, its financial sponsors, wealthy Swedish businessman Gerard De Geer and his son Jacob, are aware of the business possibilities. Acute Art has already created virtual pieces for Chanel and BMW and is exploring ways to broadcast works in editions. “We haven’t really monetized things,” Birnbaum said. But it allowed the unexpected NFT craze and blockchain purchase to have sparked conversations among some artists about financial opportunities.

One thing seems certain: virtual and augmented reality is still in its artistic beginnings. Agut Art acts as a technology guru, providing programmers and computer engineers to create virtual creations of artists. “There’s a little story written, then we do a trial version, and they’ll say again, ‘The texture is too small,’ and ‘It must be redder,'” Birnbaum said. “They have a trial app and can play- there and place it “.

“My interest is to see what we can do with this technology,” he continued. “Once there was photography and everyone thought it would kill the painting. Then came the movies, camcorder, and internet. In our time, AR and VR are the new supports. There is a period before it is commercialized when experimental things can be done. We are already there. “

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