collectAR is a central virtual place where digital art collections, catalogues raisonnés, and artists’ estates can be created and managed, based on art-history standards. Author Markus Sekulla talked to founder Nathalie Krall about the future of art history and the possibilities of augmented reality applications.
Hi, Nathalie! Would you like to introduce yourself?
Hello Markus! Thank you very much. I’m glad our interview has worked out! My name is Nathalie Krall. I am an art historian and co-founder of collectAR (‘kə’lekta:r). Marco Ressler and I co-founded the start-up in Düsseldorf on 21 May 2021. That date was very important to me since 21 May is the UNESCO World Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. It fits perfectly, as collectAR is situated precisely at the interface of these subject areas. We are about art and technology, digital transformation, and cultural heritage.
That sounds exciting. What exactly do you offer?
The term of “collectar” actually refers to a medieval manuscript that combines collections, e.g., of liturgical readings. However, our company name of “collectAR” also refers to the English art collector “collector”. The capital AR is a reference to augmented reality technology. That is what collectAR is all about.
Our cloud-based art management database forms the heart of collectAR. We are developing it as a central virtual place where digital art collections, catalogues raisonnés, and artists’ estates can be created and managed, based on art-history standards. The pieces of art entered there can then be experienced in the real world via the augmented reality technology we developed in-house. Imagine it as a virtual holographic layer added to the physical space using a smartphone or tablet. Virtual art objects and cultural assets will appear lifelike in your own environment, as if they were actually there. That’s the great thing about AR. In contrast to VR, or virtual reality, we always keep the actual environment visible while affording a realistic impression of what works of art look like in the original. We can do that with two-dimensional and three-dimensional image files alike.
Furthermore, collectAR makes it possible to complement this new way of experiencing art with multimedia storytelling. That may include texts or images. Audio and video files can be technically integrated as well to present audio-visual background stories on the artist or work along with the AR experience. You will be able to interact with the digital twin of a piece of art or cultural asset at home, in a museum, in a gallery, or at an art fair, learning a great many exciting things in the process.
Alright. How can someone interested in art get a hold of a work of art in AR?
First and foremost, collectAR is aimed at “art world professionals”, i.e., people and institutions professionally active in the world of art. Artists, for example, may use collectAR, to document their oeuvre. Galleries may use our AR to reach a global art audience. Museums can expand their collections or exhibitions with us by setting up virtual art objects that would be impossible to include in the presentation at all otherwise. These may be works exhibited in other exhibition halls or in the museum’s own depot, or even those that were stolen, lost, or destroyed.
Such users may post their digital image data and other information through our art management database with personalised access that allows users to retain full control of any sensitive or copyrighted material at all times. Only when an order is placed with collectAR will we start working with the data to create our “AR reels”, which can then be accessed via a URL or a QR code made available to users exclusively. From there onwards, it is entirely up to them what they want to do with the results. They will decide how to use the AR reels and to whom and when they want to provide access. A link or QR code to the AR reel may, for example, be sent to potential art collectors, embedded on websites, or printed on flyers. There are no limits to the users’ imagination.
End users can access the URL or QR code entirely for free on our end. This becomes even more attractive because our AR is browser-based. There’s no need to download or install anything to experience collectAR’s AR reels, and there is no log in or registration required. All you need is a stable internet connection, a device that supports AR, and the right kind of browser. collectAR currently can be used in Google Chrome for Android and in Mozilla WebXR Viewer for iOS, with a light version available for Safari. collectAR is part of the technological avant-garde today. We are going to continue to develop our solutions in future in order to make this kind of digital access to art possible for more and more people.
Cultural participation is very important to me. That comprises the analogue and digital worlds alike. I have been newly appointed to the board of Kulturliste Düsseldorf e.V., which has been working to support cultural participation for everyone in Düsseldorf and its surrounding area for a decade now. Cultural participation is a human right. I firmly believe that art and culture are essential for intercultural understanding and a democratic society. In order to achieve this, however, every person must have access to begin with.
We at Kulturliste Düsseldorf e.V. work towards this goal by providing free admission to cultural and sporting events for people with little or no income. collectAR is working towards this goal by keeping digital cultural participation in mind and making it technically possible to experience art independently of any external circumstances. An AR reel of a work of art makes it irrelevant where in the world someone is located, whether any personal, health, or political circumstances render access to art in their real life impossible at the moment, or whether one of the many crises we are going through is forcing exhibition houses to close once again. Our AR reels make works of art accessible to everyone, anywhere, at any time, matching every individual’s abilities, and keep them digitally accessible for as long as the users wish.
We at collectAR consider this kind of promotion and preservation of culture to be our vocation. Culture and nature are the two highest goods of humankind to us. Therefore, we are particularly proud to be the first Düsseldorf company to have accepted and signed the “Nachhaltigkeitsdeklaration im Kulturbereich” (Declaration of Sustainability in the Cultural Sector). This is a voluntary commitment to helping promote and achieve the global goals of the 2030 Agenda. We believe that working on the 17 global goals is the most important task for all people living today.
What are you expecting for the year of 2023?
We have many plans for this year! All of our solutions have been developed and are fully functional. We are due to start selling AR reels in the scope of a major project in spring. Exhibition projects are bound to follow later in the year, supplementing physically available pieces of art with AR ones to create a new kind of hybrid art show. First, however, we are currently working on an image film that puts collectAR in the position of a sort of “matchmaker” between an art lover and a work of art. ❤️
Summer is going to be particularly exciting for me as a cultural worker from Düsseldorf: I am one of the lucky recipients of the 360-Grad scholarship offered by the Cultural Office of the City of Düsseldorf, the Citizens’ Foundation, the Art and Culture Foundation of the Stadtsparkasse Düsseldorf, and the Stadtsparkasse Düsseldorf itself last year. I want to combine innovation with tradition in my project to bring art history into Düsseldorf’s urban space with collectAR’s AR.
Düsseldorf is very important for art history in Germany and internationally. While we are a modern art metropolis with our world-class exhibition programme and Art Düsseldorf today, Düsseldorf also looks back on a long (art) history. The glamour of our art academy in particular attracted many artists from all over the world here in the 19th century. They studied and worked together and supported each other’s ideas. Traces of these artists can be found everywhere in the names in urban space here, for example: Schadowstraße in the city centre, Mintropplatz near the main railway station, and Schillstraße in Hassels are just a few examples of streets named after members of the Düsseldorf School of Painting. Most people walking or driving along these streets or waiting at tram stops every day may not even know anything about this, however.
My project is to enable people to go find traces of Düsseldorf artists in public urban space, city views known from paintings of the time, or some interesting vantage points. AR technology will then show them what things used to look like and tell them more about the history and stories associated with the location. I want to make the first stations of my “Straßen-Kunst-Geschichte(n)” (street art history [and story]) accessible in time for the nationwide Digital Day on 16 June 2023. I want to keep the threshold for users very low to allow young people, citizens, and tourists alike to explore the artistic and cultural history of the city in real digital form on an online map, either specifically or by random selection. If the project continues in future, there may be stations for an experience in multiple stages, or even entire routes. Beyond this contemporary digital art mediation through AR, I want to let people see what they may consider everyday and familiar views with new eyes, using their smartphones as time machines. The fact that my project coincides with the 250th anniversary of the Kunstakademie must be providential!
That’s great! Where can one find more information about collectAR and your projects?
Our website collectar.org is still under construction, but you can already sign up for our newsletter there. We also use the handle collectar_org on Instagram. Marco and I are also personally active on LinkedIn.
Of course, we would now like to give Urbanana readers the opportunity to get an idea of collectAR for themselves. Because of this, we have put together an exclusive AR reel specifically for you with a piece of art in the public domain by Julius Hübner (1806-1882). He was one of the most important representatives of the Düsseldorf School of Painting. Our reel shows the three portraits of Düsseldorf painters Carl Friedrich Lessing, Carl Ferdinand Sohn, and Theodor Hildebrandt – each of whom had a street in Düsseldorf named after him. The original pieces are currently in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Enjoy exploring them!
Thank you so much for your time and your great input, Nathalie!
Anytime. Thank you, Markus.
Photos by collectAR/Nathalie Krall.