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MoMAR: pirating a Museum through augmented reality

Contemporary Art | In March 2018, the Jackson Pollock room in the New York City Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was hacked; revealing how augmented reality has extended hacking to physical sites. On the website dedicated to this intervention one can read : “Welcome to MoMAR” the Museum of Modern Art Augmented Reality.

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The museum institution : a fertile territory for augmented reality pirates

We can access the MoMAR by downloading the MoMAR Gallery application on a smartphone. Once in the MOMA’s Jackson Pollock room, we can observe the virtual works which are superimposed on the master’s original works, through a phone screen.
The MoMAR’s first exhibition was entitled Hello, we’re from the internet (March 2 -May 10, 2018). It gathered works from eight artists, virtually superimposed on seven paintings physically exposed in the room.

With this method, artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo turned Jackson Pollock’s ultimate painting White Light (1956) into an interactive game. The artist, who works on the issues of memorization and life after death, created an experience based on the dynamics of Pollock’s painting, interpreting the artwork through his own lens.
The MoMAR’s exhibition also introduced works that didn’t establish an actual dynamic with the physical paintings. These works were presented as invasions, taking siege of the museum.


The Parisian equivalent of the MoMAR was inaugurated in the Centre Pompidou, in May 2018. It was initiated by the artists’ collective Recycle Group and was entitled They were lying to you, everything is different.

In both the MOMA and the Centre Pompidou, certain virtual works were introduced as reactions to the physical paintings, often interacting with them with comic purposes. For instance, at the Centre Pompidou, the Recycle Group collective surrounded Joseph Kosuth’s chair (One and Three Chairs, 1965) with two virtual chairs; it also offered an analytical report on the number of views received by a Georg Baselitz painting in the last twenty-four hours. Several works became mirrors that reflected the objects behind the visitor. In some cases, paintings became windows, erasing the artworks and showing the viewer the space behind the wall. When facing Picasso’s L’Aubade, the application showed the adjacent room by night, with the lights turned off, revealing a time of the day in which there is no access to the institution.

(De gauche à droite) Recycle Group devant Picabia, Joseph Kosuth et Georg Baselitz © Recycle Group
(De gauche à droite) Recycle Group devant Picabia, Joseph Kosuth et Georg Baselitz
© Recycle Group

The Museum Hacking Turn : breaking the institution’s walls

The MoMAR’s founders’ goal is to virtually destroy the Museum’s walls as an elitist institution. They call for a new era in the following terms : “If we are to understand that art is the great measure of our culture we must also acknowledge it is owned, valued and defined by ’the elite.’ We must also recognize that the term “open to the public” is not an invitation, but a declaration of values. Values that are not our own. And it has remained that way for 335 years. Until now.”
The MoMAR’s mission is to open the Museum’s doors to virtual works, denouncing the institutions’ static nature and its backwardness with respect to today’s creation. Following this logic, a new type of institutional criticism is put into practice.

The appropriation of space that took place at the MOMA and later at the Centre Pompidou, paves the way for future hackings in museums worldwide in order to introduce virtual works of all kinds behind the institutions’ walls. The concept of Museum Hacking Turn is emerging as a new form of artistic expression that challenges museum’s policies.


Prospects for Museum piracy

The applications created by the MoMAR founders and Recycle Group did not receive the museums’ permission. Nevertheless, the institutions have not removed the applications that superimpose virtual artworks to their prestigious collections, rather they seem to have given an implicit permission. The Museum’s hacking could actually work as a reverse strategy to attract younger audiences.

Virtual invasions of museums require a definition of the rights of virtual spaces inside physical spaces, may they be private or public. They reveal the crucial issue of boundaries between “virtual” spaces and “physical” spaces, while also highlighting the potential conflicts between physical works and virtual ones. Where do we draw the line between interacting freely with another artwork and being prejudicial to it?

In any case, museums do not need to worry about one point : with augmented reality visitors can virtually embrace a Cy Twombly or any other artwork as many times as they like.

1. In 2015, within the framework of the Art + Technology Lab grant awarded by the LACMA in Los Angeles, Barcia-Colombo created a project entitled The Hereafter Institute; which reflects on the permanence of our data on social networks after our physical death.

Maud Maffei
Publié le 27/07/2018
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MoMAR © DR MoMAR © MoMAR (De gauche à droite) Recycle Group devant Picabia, Joseph Kosuth et Georg Baselitz © Recycle Group

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