Art Augmented: A Conversation with Ben Logan

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Ben Logan is the marketing coordinator for KeyARt, an augmented reality app which allows users to interact with artwork in a whole new way. By scanning real life art pieces with their phones, users can access all sorts of interactive information which can grant them a more intimate understanding of the works they view.

The app recently launched in New York City, and Logan sat down with BTRtoday to discuss the intersection of art and technology, and the future of the museum experience as we know it.

BTRtoday (BTR): Can you tell us a little bit about why KeyARt was created?

Ben Logan (BL): The whole point is that museums are continually updating; their artists are changing, so the way that we experience art, the type of way we interact with museums is changing. But the audio of most major museums remain the same. It’s very outdated, strictly audio recording. You just walk around, hear the thing, and you don’t really get a full interaction with art.

For a lot of people, whether it’s their first time in a museum or their first time really experiencing art, it can be hard to have a true experience with the art piece. You spend a lot of time just looking, and you don’t really learn a lot. And then you leave the museum and you say, “Well, that was really cool, but what did I just see? How do I learn more about it? How do I learn about the art in a way that really works for me?”

So, what KeyARt does is take that problem, and puts it into augmented reality.

BTR:  What does that entail?

BL: So, when you’re in the museum and you want to learn more about a piece of art, instead of just going with a normal audio recording, or just reading the little plaque, you can now take your phone out, hold your phone up to the piece of art and scan it. Then it will project video, audio, text, and even trivia about the artwork onto the painting itself.

It gives you a breakdown of what that piece is, in a medium that really works for you–whether that be watching a video, reading on your own, or doing the traditional audio. Or doing a quiz, a fun kind of trivia where you guess things or just learn about it and quiz yourself later.

BTR: When you say “scan the artwork,” does that mean that each piece of artwork will now need a barcode?

BL: The beauty of augmented reality is that it takes away the early adopter for barcodes or scanning that we’ve seen in the past. Much like taking a picture, you just hold up your phone, center it around the painting and hit scan. It will automatically identify what the art is, and then project information onto it.

Kind of like what we’ve seen with Pokemon Go, where you have a mix of the real world, and sort of an animated world projected onto it. You’re now seeing that with KeyARt in the museum.

BTR: What kinds of information could a user experience after scanning a piece of artwork?

BL: KeyARt has it’s own team of art critics and art historians who have gone through each painting that has been registered on the app, and they have created six or seven categories: the history of the art, who are the artists, related genres, hidden meanings or identities of the art.

Whether that be, for instance, that maybe in the middle of the painting the artist decided that he wanted to change mediums and  started using charcoal. And you can’t really notice that, but the app will actually point that out and say, “Now, if you look at the very bottom of the painting you’ll see that the color is slightly different from the top, and that reflects this and that…”

So, you learn not only the general gist of what the painting is, but also who the artist is, where it comes from and why it’s there. But then you actually go beyond the painting and you learn about the smaller processes, the troubles or the challenges, and maybe what the artist was thinking or experiencing while creating that art piece. Which gives you a whole new take on the art.

BTRtoday: Where can individuals use KeyARt today?

BL: The app has been in development for over a year now, with a full staff of people working around the clock, gathering their own information on each art piece and then working with museums and the art within it. Right now it’s fully in the MoMa and the Guggenheim; it works for both of the permanent collections. But it’s also going to be coming to the Met in a month or two.

And it will continue to expand around the world and around the United States as each art piece is added.