Did you know that the painter Rockwell Kent, whose splendorous Afternoon on the Sea, Monhegan hangs in San Francisco’s de Young Museum, worked on murals and advertisements for General Electric and Rolls-Royce? I did not, until I visited Gallery 29 on a recent Tuesday afternoon, phone in hand.
Because the de Young’s curators worked with Google to turn some of the informational placards that hang next to paintings into virtual launchpads, any placard that includes an icon for Google Lens—the name of the company’s visual search software—is now a cue. Point the camera at the icon and a search result pops up, giving you more information about the work. (You can access Google Lens on the iPhone within the Google search app for iOS or within the native camera app on Android phones.)
The de Young’s augmented-reality add-ons extend beyond the informational. Aim your camera at a dot drawing of a bee in the Osher Sculpture Garden and a quirky video created by artist Ana Prvacki plays—she attempts to pollinate flowers herself with a bizarrely decorated gardening glove.
It wasn’t so long ago that many museums banned photo-taking. And smartphones and tablets were disapproved of in classrooms. But technology is winning, and the institutions of learning and discovery are embracing screens. AR, with its ability to layer digital information on top of real-world objects, makes that learning more engaging.
Of course, these ARtistic addenda don’t pop out in the space in front of you;