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You Own the Royal Academy of Arts—In Virtual Reality, at Least

"Congratulations! The former home of the Royal Academy of Arts is now yours."

by Emerson Rosenthal
Jun 16 2015, 1:00pm

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What kind of person puts a Jeff Koons Balloon Rabbit in their courtyard? And what's it like to casually own said multimillion-dollar modern sculpture? In artist Lawrence Lek's latest futurist reimagining for "site-specific simulation" series, Bonus Levels, that person is an unidenfified Chinese billionaire who successfully wins London's Royal Academy of Arts at auction and turns it into a palatial private mansion, replete with Koonses, Kapoors, Kusamas, and other complicated contemporary masterworks. Considering the disciplinarian nature of the translated Mandarin voiceover that plays throughout the experience, an instructional how-to for hiring and firing an "army of household servants," it probably feels pretty fucking intense.

The winner of the 2015 Dazed Emerging Artist Award at the RA, Unreal Estate (the Royal Academy is yours) forms Chapter 9 in Lek's series of virtual worlds. Developed using video game software, like the Sim City-style gallery tours and XBOX-controlled reimagined train stations before it, it puts a playable spin on the control over public and private institutions, simulating the detached air of untethered movement required to maintain a top-down institution.

Images courtesy the artist

"It is this reality Lawrence Lek would have us enter as he keenly observes the vulnerable position these attractive features place the institution in, its design and prestigious art-world credentials exploited as sales tactics," Susanna Davies-Crook's accompanying text reads. "The RA itself is on a rental contract, and set against the backdrop of London's current housing crisis, Lek leverages this crack in the facade of dominance and timelessness associated with the nation's most revered art establishment."

With virtuoso cellist's Oliver Coates' creeping soundtrack in the background as you navigate the charged, simulated space, the result is a critical window into the wills to power and excess in our increasingly gamifiable modern era. Check out the walkthrough of Unreal Estate below, and visit Bonus Levels to experience Lek's windows into other reality-based virtual worlds:

Unreal Estate (the Royal Academy is yours) from Lawrence Lek on Vimeo.

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