Highbrow art is being redefined for the digital age. Digital mediums – most notably augmented reality (AR) – are making high art more accessible than ever, bringing them off canvases and into the real world to appeal to the growing cohort of digital-native consumers.

Renowned cultural institutions like the Tate Britain are combining digital techniques and traditional art for an enhanced viewing experience. In August 2019, the London art museum unveiled The Virtual Wing, an AR-powered exhibit created in partnership with Facebook Creative Shop and design firm The Mill. By pointing their smartphone camera at one of eight paintings – selected for unusual or little-known stories behind the piece – museum-goers can learn interesting tidbits about the artist, subject matter or historical context that would otherwise go untold.

“By tapping into a wealth of relevant data alongside AI and computer vision algorithms, we can help people learn and connect to the world around them in meaningful ways,” explained Matthew Roberts, who heads up Spark AR at Facebook.

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Apple ART Walk by Nick Cave. Image courtesy of Apple.

Apple and New York City’s New Museum are encouraging artists to turn their talents to a new métier. The tech and cultural duo tapped seven diverse creators – all of whom have little to no experience with AR – to create digitally-enhanced installations for Apple’s [AR]T Walk exhibition, a new public art initiative. As of August 10, 2019, the pieces are on display “as a visual layer on the cityscape” in San Francisco, New York City, Hong Kong, London, Paris and Tokyo.

The aim? To expand the modern definition of creativity and bring awareness to AR’s artistic potential. Said the New Museum’s Lisa Phillips: “Augmented reality is a medium ripe for dynamic and visual storytelling that can extend an artist’s practice beyond the studio or the gallery and into the urban fabric.”

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Apple ART Walk by John Giorno. Image courtesy of Apple.

Street art is being digitized by the artist Insa, whose latest ‘GIF-iti’ mural can be seen on the side of the Truman Brewery in East London. The graphic, digitally-inspired artwork, which is presented in partnership with Shutterstock, comes to life when viewed through the accompanying app. To create the piece, the artist employed his signature animated painting technique, which involves painting multiple layers, photographing each and then uploading and overlaying them to create a looped gif.

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Apple ART Lab with Sarah Rothburg. Image courtesy of Apple.

In Rome, digital design, Renaissance craftsmanship and high fashion meet at Dolce & Gabbana’s latest store. An expansive digital fresco adorns the ceiling and walls in the lavish 16th-century palazzo that houses the Italian fashion house’s newest boutique, opened in June 2019. “Rome is a baroque city built by artists and architects such as Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernin – their creations are vital and characterized by a hyper-reality,” explained the brand. “The designers wanted to bring to life this baroque inspiration in a contemporary way, with modern materials and techniques.”

The rest of the store is decadently outfitted in brass, plush scarlet velvet, fifteen different kinds of marble, glittering mosaics, rich walnut and Murano chandeliers. Rather than making the aged surroundings feel outdated, however, the digital masterpiece accentuates the vivid hues and resplendent surfaces – offering a modern take on Rome’s storied cultural history and artistic pedigree.

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In-store art by Nick Cave. Image courtesy of Apple.

Rising generations – for whom digital artistry is second nature thanks to apps steeped in filters, face swaps and emojis – are finding new ways of layering digital with the analogue for a more fluid creative expression. As this new class rewrites the creative script, brands and cultural leaders are taking note – and following their lead.

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