06 May 2021

Augmented reality art gallery across the west end launches new ‘Art Of London’ cultural initiative

Actor and presenter Stephen Mangan today unveiled the art gallery of the future, as some of the West End’s leading institutions unite to display their masterpieces outdoors through the lens of augmented reality.

The Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year presenter officially opened The Augmented Gallery, an interactive art trail, using the latest in augmented reality technology, which marks the launch of ‘Art of London’, a new cultural strategy for the West End and start of a season of public art for the area.

Appearing outside the National Gallery, the first of twenty locations in the free and accessible public trail, Mangan revealed a life-sized augmented reality version of Anthony van Dyck’s ‘Equestrian Portrait of Charles I’, one of twenty masterpieces the public will be able to experience across a mile-long outdoor trail.

The Art of London Augmented Gallery is a unique collaboration between the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts and Sky Arts. Each has contributed a diverse selection of classic and contemporary masterpieces to this innovative and safe way to enjoy some of the world’s greatest art in the open air, as the country and cultural institutions tentatively prepare to reopen.

Beginning at the National Gallery and ending at Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly – taking in St. Martin’s Lane, Orange Street, Cecil Court, Piccadilly Circus, Princes Arcade and Jermyn Street along the way – The Augmented Gallery consists of twenty life-sized colourful frames and plaques on walls around the area, each of which will contain QR codes and unique markers to unlock timeless masterpieces framed in 3D.

Classic paintings and modern works featured from the gallery collections will include Titian, Vincent van Gogh, Alexandria Artemisia Gentileschi, Georges Pierre Seurat, Ishbel Myerscough, Shirin Neshat and Tracey Emin and portraits of iconic sitters from William Shakespeare to Malala Yousafzai.

The trail also features contemporary portraits of famous faces including Sir Tom Jones, Sir Ian McKellen, Elaine Paige, Nile Rodgers and Imelda Staunton, all by finalists and winners of Portrait Artist of the Year, which is free to air on Sky Arts and will return later this year.

All contained in a central Art of London Augmented Gallery app, the trail features insightful and entertaining audio commentaries on each classic painting, which includes curators from each of the galleries, along with a lighter touch from comedian and art lover James Acaster and Stephen Mangan himself.

Stephen Mangan, who has presented Portrait Artist of the Year since 2019, said: “I’m delighted to be part of the Augmented Gallery and to unveil this life-sized augmented masterpiece by Anthony van Dyck at the National Gallery.

“Presenting Portrait Artist of the Year has introduced me to so many incredibly talented contemporary artists and to see the likes of 2020 winner Christabel Blackburn and 2019 winner Duncan Shoosmith displayed in this app alongside greats like Van Gogh and Titian is a genuinely proud moment. This is such a great initiative that people can enjoy safely outdoors in the heart of London’s West End and I hope it introduces these timeless classics and contemporary masterpieces to new audiences.”

Ros Morgan, Chief Executive at Heart of London Business Alliance, said:
“We’re thrilled to launch the Art of London cultural strategy with this world first, a mile-long Augmented Gallery around the heart of London’s West End. This is a real landmark initiative that brings together some of London’s leading cultural institutions.

The West End has so much to offer in terms of culture, retail and leisure, but it has been disproportionately hit by the pandemic. Attracting the public back to the area safely and responsibly has never been more important and we hope that the Augmented Gallery will play some part in welcoming back visitors to explore and enjoy this open air art trail around this historic area so rich in art history.”

Director of the National Gallery Dr Gabriele Finaldi says “We are delighted to be taking part in The Augmented Gallery, as it gives us the chance to showcase some of the Nation’s favourite paintings out in the open for everyone to enjoy. By bringing a series of masterpieces to the West End through the lens of augmented reality, visitors to the area can enjoy a taste of the treasures we have inside the National Gallery. And of course, everyone is welcome to book their free tickets into the Gallery – just a few steps away – to experience the real paintings from when we, hopefully, are able to reopen our doors from 17 May.”

Chief Operating Officer of the National Portrait Gallery Ros Lawler said, “The National Portrait Gallery is currently closed while essential building works take place on our major redevelopment project, Inspiring People, so we are thrilled to be a part of The Augmented Gallery and to be able to continue to share our Collection with those visiting the local area. It is a wonderful opportunity for people to explore some iconic and much-loved portraits from our Collection, such as Shakespeare and Mary Seacole and discover sitters associated with arts and culture in the West End including Noël Coward and Willard White.”

Director of Collections & Learning from the Royal Academy of Arts Rebecca Lyons said, “The Royal Academy Collection is constantly evolving and reflects the artists, past and present, who have been elected Royal Academicians or who have close links to the Academy itself. We are delighted to present these works for The Augmented Gallery that span across our 252-year history. We hope it will encourage viewers to come to the RA and visit both our permanent (free) galleries, our historic building and our temporary exhibitions. We plan to reopen on Tuesday 18 May and look forward to welcoming back our Friends and visitors”

The Augmented Gallery is a free to enjoy public art trail that can be accessed on all smartphone devices through the centralized app, available for iOS HERE and on Android HERE (or by searching ‘Art of London’ on your usual app store)

Portrait Artist of the Year returns to Sky Arts this autumn for its 8th season. Sky Arts is available free to air on Freeview channel 11.

Augmented reality art gallery across the west end launches new ‘Art Of London’ cultural initiative - Gascoyne London