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From July 3 through August 29, The Shed, High Line Art, and Acute Art are co-presenting The Looking Glass, a free outdoor exhibition staging 17 augmented reality (AR) artworks on and around The Shed’s plaza and the High Line. 

Following its debut at Frieze New York in May, this second chapter of the exhibition is an expansion of Acute Art’s Unreal City, which ran in London earlier this year. On view are Acute’s catalog of existing AR works — Olafur Eliasson’s “Wunderkammer,” Nina Chanel Abney’s “Imaginary Friend,” Cao Fei’s “RMB City AR” — some making their US debuts; in addition to new commissions by artists including KAWS, Julie Curtiss, and Precious Okoyomon.

How it works

The exhibition takes the form of a virtual sculpture hunt where visitors, armed with the Acute Art app, can activate artworks by scanning QR codes dotted across the sites. A hidden artwork by Tomás Saraceno awaits discovery at a secret location in Manhattan.

“Ultra Light Beams of Love” by Precious Okoyomon on the High Line (above) and “Holiday Space” by KAWS at The Shed (below). Images: Acute Art

Why it matters

The Looking Glass marks the first partnership between The Shed and High Line Art, and their first outing into AR. The technology, which has weathered a pandemic-embattled year unscathed, continues to be attractive to institutions looking to stage immersive experiences that challenge traditional art viewership.

This collaborative effort mirrors (no pun intended) exhibitions such as Art of London’s AR art gallery and the Valentine Museum’s recently launched AR walking tour, encouraging audiences to explore and interact with their local urban landscape in new ways — particularly resonant as reopenings get underway. As Emma Enderby, Chief Curator at The Shed, puts it, “This free public exhibition takes your phone as a looking glass, as a portal to a hidden world where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are obscured.”

And here, once again, is evidence of the resilience and dominance of Acute Art’s digital gallery model, which can be adapted to different sites and remains unbothered by social distancing restrictions. Easily transported from Berlin to Beijing, the platform, as a partner, offers brick-and-mortar museums opportunities to expand the dimensions and reach of their spaces, while engaging digitally savvy visitors. That an AR exhibition like The Looking Glass can be assembled with ease and speed further speaks to the adaptability that, following a year of unexpected challenges, will be sought-after by most cultural organizations.

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What the organizers said

“The AR artworks in the exhibition offer new, inspiring ways of engaging in the expanded field of public art.” — Cecilia Alemani, the Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Director & Chief Curator of High Line Art

“Acute’s mission is to work with artists and provide them a platform to create and present AR and VR works that push beyond the boundaries of their traditional practices. Our collaboration with The Shed enables us to share these new commissions and U.S. debuts with thousands of visitors throughout the summer.” — Daniel Birnbaum, Director of Acute Art

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CultureTech, Museums & Cultural Institutions