Images and GIFs courtesy the artist
You’re strolling through a gallery space and out of one corner of your eye, you spot a sculpture of a pastoral landscape painting. In the next room stands an abstract bronze sculpture. “For looted art go to your right, for art theft go to your left,” says an invisible woman who guides you through the exhibit. This is not an ordinary museum: it's the home of artworks whose whereabouts are currently unknown, and it’s only accessible via Oculus Rift and a Playstation controller.
Welcome to the Museum of Stolen Art, the first virtual reality museum dedicated to art theft. It’s a large, spacious, and minimal space, where you can walk around at your own pace as an audio guide explains the history of different pieces, and it’s a whole lot more interesting than scrolling through Interpol’s public data archives.
This was creator Ziv Schneider’s plan all along: “I've been debating the importance of a physical, tangible presence of art for the museum experience and I am still not convinced that virtual reality is a suitable replacement but it can definitely add to the experience, especially when presenting content that is inaccessible otherwise,” she tells The Creators Project. The museum's current ongoing exhibits include The Looting of Afghanistan, The Looting of Iraq, and Famous Stolen Paintings.
Schneider was first inspired while poking around on the Interpol website, flipping from databases of wanted criminals and missing persons to art theft. The fact that art and crime could exist on a single plane fascinated her. What if, she pondered, she could pull disappeared art out of thin air? Schneider explored the idea further during an ITP course called “Cabinets of Wonder,” a class that probed the past, present and future of museums, and presented a prototype at the ITP Winter Show in December 2014.
The museum’s purpose isn't just to create a metaphorical space wherein people can admire artworks they can’t see anywhere else, but to exist as a means of getting the public to recognize stolen pieces in order to help to recover them. Schneider wants attendees to leave educated and ready to take action. Echoing her thoughts, the museum guide chimes in, “If you come across any of these pieces outside of a museum, please report immediately to the International Police.”
Click here to visit the Museum of Stolen Art.