While no technology will every replace the physical experiences of feeling Mona Lisa’s eyes watch you in the Louvre, or standing underneath Michelangelo’s colossal marble David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Woofbert VR wants to come close.
The NY-based company is creating virtual reality experiences in the realm of art and culture, and launched its app this week on Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus. For its debut, the company is offering users a VR glimpse into London’s Courtauld Gallery, where they can experience the gallery’s impressive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work—all from the comfort of their own home.
The virtual reality experience in the Courtauld Gallery offers users a guided tour of the room’s paintings. In the future, Woofbert VR wants to capture temporary exhibitions and create VR renderings of cultural projects that don’t physically exist. The company also plans to construct virtual environments outside of museums and galleries, and expand to capture cultural heritage sites and architectural monuments.
Founded in 2013 by Robert Hamwee and Elizabeth L. Reede, they both saw a lack of virtual reality present in museums and galleries. Throughout 2014, the cofounders reached out to contacts at institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery, The Smithsonian and The Barnes Foundation, where they found art world leaders who shared their sentiment.
Woofbert VR has publicly solidified partnerships with the de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Courtauld Gallery, and is in dialogue with about 85 other cultural institutions. The company raised a $3 million seed round from family and friends (including an investment from actor Kevin Spacey).
“It can’t ever be thought that we’re trying to replace the experience of standing in front of an actual object, but we want to expand on that experience,” said Reede. “Education and engagement in culture are unbelievably important and linked, and if the way of explaining the story behind an object can be enhanced, shared and democratized, virtual reality is a great way to do that.”
As far as capturing these virtual experiences, Woofbert VR upholds art world standards with a noninvasive process. Without cables or extensive lighting, the company’s protocol includes capturing data in a physical space and then bringing that data back to New York for a post-production process. The company also works with Reload Studios in Los Angeles to create the virtual environments.
The company’s mission includes providing new educational possibilities and access to students in middle school and all the way into graduate programs. In this sense, the technology could enable students to take virtual trips to the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles and to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence over the course of one class. In the field of art history, where being able to experience an object in the third dimension is paramount, this could revolutionize learning.