The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)’s major spring exhibition René Magritte: The Fifth Season, currently on view through October 28, features the Magritte Interpretive Gallery at the conclusion of the exhibition, designed and developed in partnership with global design and strategy firm frog. The exhibition—the most complete presentation of Magritte’s late work mounted since the artist’s death in 1967—offers the Interpretive Gallery as a complementary, participatory space that enables visitors to gain a greater understanding of the artist’s themes through six augmented reality interactions.
Inspired by the window motif found in many of Magritte’s works, the Interpretive Gallery presents a series of altered and augmented digital windows. In some, the windows function as digital mirrors in which the viewers’ reflections do not behave as expected. In others, the visitors’ presence in front of the window opens a gateway into another reality. The windows become both portals and problems, challenging expectations of what could and should be seen.
“We typically work in service of solving problems, answering questions or otherwise providing clarity for our clients,” said Oonie Chase, Executive Creative Director of frog’s San Francisco studio. “Working with SFMOMA, we had the rare chance to design in service of raising questions and to do so with Magritte, the undisputed master of visual enigmas. Working with SFMOMA is a dream project for frog; the way the museum is using technology to spur and expand engagement with art is incredibly inspiring.”
In the making of the Interpretive Gallery, frog worked with SFMOMA’s Curatorial, Digital, Marketing, Exhibitions and Visitor Experience staff as well as content strategists, fabricators, and designers. Together, the team struck a balance between respecting Magritte’s practice, while generating new and innovative experiences for museum visitors and members. The collaboration is in keeping with SFMOMA’s long history of creating new and exciting digital experiences to engage a wide range of learners and visitors.
The Magritte Interpretive Gallery looks past the two-dimensional plane, adding a third dimension in which human perception may be manipulated through motion, altered visuals and 3D software. Employing advanced depth-sensing cameras and motion-tracking technology, the digital scenes in the windows draw on Magritte’s visual strategies but add a temporal twist, engaging the visitor in a brief journey by suspending and altering reality and perception. The combination of visual design and human-computer interaction creates a seamless experience activated by the presence of the visitor.
“Our goal is to help visitors connect to the themes of the exhibition in playful, visceral way, while also encouraging them to see their everyday surroundings in a new light,” said Neal Benezra, the Helen and Charles Schwab Director of SFMOMA. “On a deeper level, the Interpretive Gallery also serves as a reminder that artists have always been interested in breaking down the boundaries between natural and artificial realities—anticipating much of the work in VR and AR being done today.”