In 2002, the pedestal at the Metropolitan Art Museum holding Tullio Lombardo's marble statue Adam collapsed beneath it, causing the masterpiece to fall and shatter into dozens of pieces. Today, you can interact with an avatar clone of him through a groundbreaking choose-your-own-adventure style digital exhibit.
For more than a decade following the crash, conservators at the Met worked exhaustively to put Adam back together using laser mapping and 3D printing to replicate and test different parts of the statue. By late 2014, he was almost as good as new and returned to public view. Now, the museum has passed along the 3D scans used to recreate Adam to director and new media artist Reid Farrington and the Media and Games Network program at New York University, who have created a digital performance installation that allows attendees to interact with a digital version of the statue in real time.
The project debuts on Saturday in the Museum's Venetian Sculpture of the Renaissance Gallery. Upon entering the space, users can interface with a digital screen portraying an avatar version of the statue Adam, which is puppeteered by an actor behind the scenes in the Met's theatre. The three rotating actors who play Adam wear a motion picture capture technology suit like those used in Avatar and Lord of the Rings. Standing on a stage surrounded by 16 cameras tracking his motion, the actor plays out a storyline written by playwright Sara Farrington and programmed into the system.
Guided by an actress hired for the exhibit who plays the docent, users pick one of the major pieces that broke off of the Adam statue from the screen. Based on what they choose, they are taken through different storylines, like the life of digital Adam, Biblical Adam, or the actual statue Adam. Farrington said the project is teaching viewers the history of the work and bringing the restoration process to life
"The thing that is really important to understand is sculpture is a time-based art, and modern audiences are not trained to understand how to read sculpture like a curator or like a conservator is," he said. "So what we are doing is asking the audience to come spend time with the sculpture and think about it more than just an object that you're confronted with and more about the story behind it, the character of Adam, its place in history and its travel through time, 500 years ago to today."
The interactive exhibit is built primarily using the Unreal engine, a common platform for game development. Athomas Goldberg, a game designer and animator, said he worked as the puppet master on the project, pulling together various software and hardware pieces after the museum provided them with digital scans of the reconstruction process.
"We assembled the pieces for ourselves and identified them with the 3D animation software and then we had to do a number of things: one we had to unbend the characters limbs into a pose we could animate. we also had to fill in the cracks between the parts," he said. "What the restorers had to do in marble, we had to do in pixels and polygons and sort of fill in those cracks."
In a statement, Limor Tomer, the general manager of concerts and lectures at the Met, called the installation, "the most ambitious project we've commissioned to date."
"This performance installation literally breathes life into a stunning sculptural masterpiece," she said.
The museum hopes the installation will allow viewers to learn about the history of the statue, which portrays the biblical Adam's fall from God after eating the forbidden fruit, and its parallel, physical fall in the Met––the irony of which is not lost on anyone.
"How amazing is it that Adam fell," the narrator says at one point in the presentation. "And not Andy Warhol's Vegetarian Vegetable Soup."
The Return will be on display at the Met Museum through Sunday, August 2.