VR in Museums: Case Studies

Through the emerging field of Virtual Reality, museum visitors across the world are engaging in exciting immersive experiences like never before. The technological advancements in virtual reality have allowed a great number of Museums to launch special exhibitions which provide unique experiences for audiences. These experiences transport audiences to a three-dimensional world where they are able to become part of the art. The following are examples of museums using virtual reality to further enhance audience engagement.

Disney and Dali Museums

The Walt Disney Family Museum partnered with the Salvador Dali museum to bring about a virtual reality exhibition. Both Walt Disney and Salvador Dali created unfinished works of art and were good friends. Thus, Disney honored that friendship with an exhibition hosted in Dali’s museum in Florida called Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination, using their virtual reality technology.

The exhibition allows the visitors to see the painting of Dali and Disney in addition to sketches and photos. After that, visitors use VR headsets to become immersed in Dali’s dreams and past. They enter inside Dali’s painting from 1935 called the "Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's 'Angelus.'"

The virtual reality headset that the museum utilized is Oculus Rift, which provides a three-dimensional feel and places the audience within the painting itself. The Dali museum executive director Hank Hine believes that “Disney and Dali heralds a new era in art exhibitions. Visitors can expect a multi-sensory environment of moving image, soundscapes, and the transformative aura of exquisite individual paintings. Disney and Dali broke new ground as artists—the Walt Disney Family Museum and The Dali will deliver a brave new world of experience.”

The British Museum

In August 2015, the British museum presented a virtual reality exhibition that revolved around the Bronze Age. The museum used Samsung Gear VR headsets to transport visitors to the Bronze Age. According to the Center for the Future of Museums “the virtual reality environment enhanced our audiences’ interest and excitement about Bronze Age objects.” The audience was able to enter that age and experience the objects. 

This event allowed the audience to experience cultural heritage in a virtual environment. Steve Colmer, the creative director at Solius, believes that in addition to visual and audio capabilities provided by the technology the future holds a more interesting experience by adding the senses of smell, touch and taste. Virtual reality technology is being used to enhance the existing experience of enjoying the arts.

New York City’s New Museum for Contemporary Art

The New Museum for Contemporary Art in New York City conducted its first virtual reality using OptiTrack motion capture technology and the Oculus Rift headset. The exhibition by artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrane is called Phantom. The virtual reality technology transports the audience to the Mata Atlantica rainforest in Brazil. Oculus Rift and OptiTrack provide an immersive experience through providing visual capabilities and also motional capabilities through the tracking device. The artist believes that “even more important than the visual aspect of this installation is the physical aspect, so incorporating movement and physical cues was a priority for me, the physical 3D tracking provided by OptiTrack allows visitors to move through branches, crouch down and feel the rainforest floor, and really feel as though they are present in and interacting with this wondrous world.”

London's Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in London is using virtual reality to take their visitors to the beginning of life on earth. The exhibition called First Life reveals the earliest organisms from 540 million years ago. The museum utilized the Samsung Gear VR headset to take families on new adventures and to explore the evolution of animals. The director of the Natural History Museum Sir Michael Dixon says, "we're always looking for new ways to challenge the way people think about the natural world. We know virtual reality can transport us to impossible places. This is a compelling example of how technology can revolutionize how we experience museums."

As seen above, museums are exploring virtual reality in their exhibitions and activities. The Center for the Future of Museums provides tips for developing virtual reality experiences, including always putting your audience first, collaborating with curators and making the most out of the available technology. Museum managers should continuously check the technological improvements within the virtual reality world and consider investing in this exciting new field.