I met Mona Lisa today. Nice lady: great smile, doesn’t talk much. At all, in fact; things got a little awkward when I introduced myself and she proceeded to just stare at me. And stare, and stare… and stare some more.
I’m not what you’d call a connoisseur of the arts, but I don’t think you have to be to appreciate Art Plunge from Swedish company Space Plunge. Whereas the excellent Woofbert app gives VR users a virtual gallery to contemplate historic paintings, this new experience, launched this week in preview form on Google Daydream and last month on Vive, Cardboard and Gear VR, brings some of the most iconic works of all time to virtual life. While you can look at paintings in a frame, clicking on them will suck you into their worlds to view art like you’ve never seen it before.
It reminded me a mix of both the Woofbert app and The Night Cafe, the brilliant 2015 Oculus Mobile Jam-winning experience that allowed you to explore one of Vincent Van Gogh’s creations as if you were living in its world. Art Plunge works a little different; you can’t move around inside the painting but you can see more than one. In the free preview you’re limited to just Leonardo da Vinci’s timeless masterpiece and Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, but both are extremely well realized, literally adding layers to works that people have appreciated for hundreds of years.
Vermeer’s piece, for example, lets you glance outside at a riverside down just beyond the open window. Horse hooves click in the distance and the cries of seagulls have you almost smelling the fresh air for yourself. The girl calmly rocks with her breathing, her eyes never moving from the page before her, causing you to ponder just what news she’s been given.
The Mona Lisa, meanwhile, transforms from a window into a beautiful world into a stunning panorama of it in VR. Music from the halls behind you echoes into the room while the woman herself sits with that unwavering expression, which feels more like a knowing glance. You’re basking in a mystery once she has brought to life.
Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam is being added to the app next, and the developers are asking fans to have their say in what else should be added over on a Facebook page.
Sadly, a Kickstarter campaign for the app has already come and gone, falling far short of its admittedly ambitious $36,205 (320,000 SEK) goal at just $694 raised. Space Plunge is committed to finding another way to raise the funds to convert more paintings, which I hope it finds success with. Alongside mobile VR, the developer hopes to release the experience on Rift; and we’d certainly like to see room-scale support add a little more depth to the experience, though PC VR is marked as a ‘secondary platform’ and it is a seated experience according to the crowdfunding page.
VR keeps finding new ways to draw me into the classical arts, and appreciate them in ways that I never would have as a simple painting. It’s that effect, no doubt, that companies like Space Plunge want to have on people. If you’re at all interested in that potential, you should let them know.