Old Masters Picture Gallery in Second Life

Review

of an Exhibition

by Jim Spadaccini

Published on September 19, 2007

  • Description:

    Second Life for those who haven’t heard of it, is a popular, Internet-based virtual world. Registered users create their own avatars, interact with other users, and even build structures and spaces. I’ve ventured into Second Life (abbreviated as SL) a few times over the last year or so, but until this week I hadn’t spent “quality time” there. After reading an interesting article in Wired about the virtual version of Dresden, Germany’s famed Old Masters Picture Gallery, I decided the time was right.

    Being a relative novice in Second Life, I asked an old friend and SL veteran, DC Spensley, to meet me at the museum. DC, or DanCoyote Antonelli as he’s known in Second Life, is an artist who creates imaginative and interactive spaces within this virtual world. My own avatar, Mij Foil, met up with DanCoyote by following a SLURL (a “SL” “URL”, a link to a particular place within Second Life). We found ourselves in the center of the courtyard of the Old Masters Picture Gallery.

    DANCOYOTE ARRIVES
    As I looked around the courtyard, DC hovered above—to move forward and see the gallery he soon would have to descend. His first comment about the museum was that they turned off the ability to fly. “Why walk when you can fly,” he said. (In most places in Second Life you can fly.) It was obvious from the onset that DC’s approach to experiences in SL was different than the more formal, replicative approach of the Dresden gallery.

    The quality of the textures and the detail of the architecture in the SL reproduction of the 150 year old building is impressive. These complex textures, however, took ages to load on my screen and hindered my ability to navigate the space. As I panned the courtyard, more detail slowly appeared. I awkwardly ventured into the gallery, trying to keep up with DanCoyote, following a red carpet to the entrance.

    At the entrance, we signed into the guest book and I looked at a map. Unfortunately, the map was completely useless — it was impossible to read (or perhaps there was someway to read it that I didn’t discover). The inside space had the same level of detail as the courtyard, and my experience was equally slow.

    FIRST IMPRESSIONS
    Now inside, DC and I discussed our first impressions. He said it was one of the better examples of “remediated architecture” that he’s seen, but in Second Life he tried to avoid indoor spaces since they made him feel claustrophobic. I agreed that the space did feel a bit claustrophobic, but I was determined to see some of the 750 masterpieces I had read about in the Wired article.

    We headed up the stairs to a small meeting space. It had rows of chairs and beautiful tapestries hung on the walls. This was nice, but not the gallery space I was looking for. I had a great deal of difficulty navigating the space due the slow performance of the environment. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Before we left the entrance area, DC noted that “they’ve recreated place but made the space second.” Then he asked, “Are you having a good user experience?” At that particular moment, I couldn’t say that I was.

    STUCK IN THE BASEMENT
    We turned around and, after finding a number of closed doors, DC suggested we go down a flight of stairs. As we worked our way down, we found ourselves in what looked like a locker room. Not exactly the ornate galleries I was hoping for, but then again we were technically in the basement. We pressed on. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a strange room. There were small pieces of art on the wall, a shelf with various objects on it, and what appeared to be racks of clothing. We had found the museum store at the Old Masters Picture Gallery.

    T-shirts bearing the museum’s name hung from the clothing racks. After a bit of work, I figured out how to try on a shirt, and then took a screen shot of myself (my other self?) — I felt a bit like a virtual tourist. There were other objects in the store, such as a medieval attire that you could try on or take with you. Unlike its real counterpart, all of the objects in this virtual store were free. DC had given me a couple thousand Linden dollars (SL’s currency) but there was no need to spend it.

    WILL I EVER FIND THE GALLERIES?
    Now more than 30 minutes into my virtual museum experience, I had seen a few tapestries and the museum shop. This is not what I had in mind when our outing began. We headed upstairs, now figuring that we must have missed a door or stairway that leading to the galleries. FInally, we discovered a stairway to the second floor, which took us to a beautifully detailed and reproduced gallery. It was truly striking.

    Just as we were going to begin exploring the galleries, another avatar appeared. He was carrying a guitar and smoking a pipe. Somehow, that seemed quite natural even in the formal settings of the gallery spaces. He tried chat us up in German, but since we couldn’t really communicate he soon left. We then turned our attention back to the galleries.

    HIGH FIDELITY
    I was struck by the fidelity of the reproduction of the space. Every detail of the gallery, from floor to ceiling, was included: the inlayed wood floors, the molding, even the picture frames. But as we began to look at the paintings themselves, it was difficult to see the work. I could click on a painting and get a note card with basic information:

    Artist: Peter Paul Rubens und Workshop (1577 – 1640)

    Title: The Drunken Hercules being led by a Nymph and a Satyr. c.1615/16

    Size: 204 × 225 cm

    Material: Canvas

    Gallery number: 957

    Yet it was hard to see the details. These great works appeared a bit “flat” and subsequently the works conveyed little emotion for me. “If you want to show a painting (in Second Life) it should be 10 meters across so you can see it,” DC told me as we strolled through the gallery.

    Of course, that would never work with the realist approach that the Old Masters Gallery took. Lots of giant, 30 foot paintings wouldn’t fit well in the existing space, and the 150 year old neoclassical building with all of its architectural richness is in itself a reason to visit. The Second Life visit here, while sometimes frustrating, was ultimately inspiring. I’m hoping to visit the real Old Masters Gallery some day.

    ANOTHER APPROACH
    Following our visit to gallery, DC invited me to look at his latest work which he calls Full Immersion Hyperformalism. Visitors travel from place to place within the exhibition by sitting on red cubes that literally fly through the space. The installation is 800 meters high and DC can “change parameters such as transparency, color, texture, and relative altitude on any axis.” The final result is a “low frequency performance where elements of the space actually evolve over the life of the exhibition.”

    The experience was unlike any other virtual space I’ve ever encountered and it was as different from Old Masters Gallery as you could imagine. DC takes advantage of the qualities and possibilities that the SL environment presents, rather then trying to sculpt the environment to match the real world. While the Old Masters Gallery is compelling because of its reproductive quality, DC’s Full Immersion Hyperformalism is successful for its innovation and in the way in which it attempts to redefine art and architecture in the Second Life environment.

    There’s plenty of room for both approaches, and I have to say that my impression of SL changed dramatically during this one long visit. If you’re looking to learn more about exhibitions in Second Life, I can recommend exploring both the formal and the hyperformal.

Latest Comments (2)

A new insight

by Gretchen Jennings - September 25, 2007

Hi, Jim, Thanks so much for this review. Although I know about SL, I haven’t ever experienced it. This gave me a sense, and within a somewhat familiar context- a visit to a museum. Gretchen

Teleport Directly

by Jim Spadaccini - September 26, 2007

Gretchen, I’m glad you enjoyed the review. If you (or others) want to try out SecondLife yourself. You can download the software here.
http://secondlife.com/community/downloads.php
Here’s a SLURL for inside the gallery itself (the one I posted in review starts you in the courtyard).

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Dresden%20Gallery/209/107/40

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