Virtual reality has always been about shortening the distance between the not-possible and the possible, or at least the reasonable and the unreasonable. After all, you wouldn’t don a pair of clunky black goggles (or a helmet) so that you can see what it feels like to go to the grocery store (uh…). Virtual reality has captured the world’s attention for its ability to plop us down in the middle of places that, until this point in history, we could only look at from afar. Now, we want to fly, to get chased by aliens, or to snoop around in the Batcave.
But Ziv Schneider has an idea to make what’s a pretty accessible real-life experience for most people—a trip to a museum—something that’s worth the trouble of creating a virtual space: Schneider has populated a museum gallery with art that has effectively disappeared from the real world.
The Museum of Stolen Art is a project Schneider has been working on as a graduate student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. On display in the hardwood halls of Schneider’s virtual museum are artworks and artifacts that have been either lost, looted, stolen, or destroyed, and the Museum of Stolen Art stands as the only place in the world where the public can enjoy these important cultural objects.
Some of the works housed in the Museum of Stolen Art were scooped up in high-profile heists, like the Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas paintings that were formerly stored in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. But the Schneider’s curatorial reach also extends to art and artifacts that were victims of conflicts in the Middle East, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The conceptual project at work here—taking invisible works of art and returning them to the public through virtual reality—is interesting enough, but Schneider’s museum has an extra addendum to its mission. With all of this missing artwork in one place for anyone’s perusal, the Museum of Stolen Art also helps mobilize the public in the search for these lost items. Sure, there’s information about stolen art readily available should anyone want to get informed, but Schneider says that won’t be enough to save most of these works. However, as she explained recently to The Daily Dot, “there’s a lot of potential in the narration of data.”
Image credits: Museum of Stolen Art