ashland.news
July 24, 2024

From Ashland to the world: A virtual museum in your hand

A long-range view shows the lobby for the Art Authority Museum, which is open for free preview tours for Vision Pro users. Art Authority Museum photo
February 29, 2024

Ashland tech firm’s Vision Pro app brings art from around the world

By Jim Flint for Ashland.news

The buzz generated by the early February release of Apple’s Vision Pro found resonance in Ashland, where Alan Oppenheimer was making an announcement of his own: the opening of the Art Authority Museum, where Vision Pro users can view tens of thousands of artworks from around the world.

The full museum remains under construction, with a grand opening planned for spring. But viewers can get a preview now. The museum is offering free pre-opening tours of its groundbreaking lobby, where users can experience dozens of the world’s most historically important artworks from wherever in the world they may be.

To take the tour, Vision Pro users go to the Vision Pro App Store, where they can download and run the free Art Authority Museum app. It transports them to the fully immersive museum lobby and begins a chronological tour, starting with the early Renaissance period.

Here is a link to the app: apps.apple.com/us/app/art-authority-museum/id6475734202.

Museum visitors can click on a painting to see a description of the work. Art Authority Museum photo

“Entrance into the lobby and select galleries will always be free,” Oppenheimer said, “with memberships providing full access.”

Members also will be able to take advantage of a number of features unavailable in classic art museums.

“They will be able to create their own galleries,” Oppenheimer said.

You can find details and updates on the opening at the museum’s website: artauthority.museum.

Silicon Valley engineers

Oppenheimer and his wife, Priscilla, were Silicon Valley engineers (including at Apple) who moved to Ashland in 1994. Open Door Networks was an early internet startup of theirs, and they assisted with the development of Ashland Fiber Network.

When the internet took off, so did Apple’s product line.

Initially partnering with Project A’s Jim Teece, they made many apps for Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. Their art apps were the most popular.

“With the help of some real art authority partners, these apps eventually evolved into our current company, Art Authority LLC,” Oppenheimer said.

The initial — and continuing — goal is to partner with internationally renowned art experts, museums and artists to make the world’s art accessible through innovative software solutions.

Even though they had a head start with regard to artwork software, there was one big challenge when it came to Vision Pro.

“We had to develop the app without any access to this completely new device,” Oppenheimer said. “Apple had a lab in Cupertino developers could visit, and we took advantage of that. But mainly we developed everything on a simulator.”

How to ‘walk around’

Other big challenges included figuring out how to do things that are easier in the real world. In particular, how does a visitor to the virtual museum actually “walk around?”

When Apple announced Vision Pro last June, an “early next year” date was as specific as the company got regarding when Vision Pro would start shipping.

The Art Authority Museum engineers and design team are shown here on a screenshot from a recent online meeting. Top, from left, are Dave Hendrix, Alan Oppenheimer and Josh Hoyle; bottom: Matt Waggie, Eric Turner and Paul Collins. Art Authority Museum photo

“We really had to hustle to have anything available when they started shipping Feb. 2,” he said.

Vision Pro, in case you missed the ubiquitous coverage of its announcement, is a spatial computer that blends digital content and apps into your physical space. It allows users to navigate using their eyes, hands and voices. Vision Pro is much more than a virtual reality headset. It retails for about $3,500.

Despite the challenges, everything pretty much fell into place naturally after Apple announced Vision Pro. Oppenheimer already had apps for Apple devices, already had access to high-resolution digital works of art and already had developed key relationships with museums and artists.

“We already were art authorities,” he said, smiling. “The only question was what type of app would we create. The answer came back pretty quickly: a new type of art museum.”

More to come

Oppenheimer is enthusiastic about the future.

“Last year we acquired a sister company, Museum Store Products,” he said. “We’re excited about bringing the two together. The sum will be much greater than the parts.”

In May, the company will participate in the annual American Alliance of Museums trade show in Baltimore with a booth where it will show off its wares, both physical and virtual — “and likely have our museum’s grand opening,” he said.

When the virtual museum opens, a visitor’s experience may even be able to top the real-world one.

“Where in the physical world can you see the top 30 works of art in Western art history?” Oppenheimer asks. “Have you ever tried to get up close to the “Mona Lisa” in Paris? And where else will you be able to experience tens of thousands of artworks in the same place?”

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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Jim

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