Museum of Art brings paintings back to life

Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-22 23:42:10-05

Thousands of centuries old paintings line the halls of the San Diego Museum of Art. 

Now the museum is allowing you to step inside some of them.

Patrick Adams checked out the museum for the first time on Monday. Bernardo Bellotto's painting of the Molo in Venice caught his eye.

"Just looking at the painting, it's a beautiful work of art," he said. 

Bellotto painted the scene of the Venice wharf around 1740, days long gone. It's a static image with people overlooking the gondolas on the canal.

But now, it's coming back to life, with the use of augmented reality. Hold the museum's new app in front of the painting, and the scene starts to move, like what the artists saw. 

The museum is joining places like the famed Met and Guggenheim by adding the extra layer to the art.

"It puts you inside of it," Adams said. "Anything that gets people engaged with art is exciting."

The museum teamed with local start-up Guru to develop the software, which relies on Bluetooth beacons above the paintings. 

"What if you were the artist? What if you were standing in front of it? What would you see? And really the augmented reality piece to it is bringing the painting to life," said Dieter Fenkart-Froeschl, the museum's chief operating officer. 

The museum plans to add the feature to at least one painting in each of its 20 galleries. Right now, it has two, including a 1758 portrait of Cardinal Etienne Rene.

Put the iPhone, iPad, or Android phone in front of the painting, and Rene tells you he's rubbed shoulders with some famous people. 

"Fortunately, I was rescued by the famous monuments men, but please, don't ask me what George Clooney is like," Rene says in the app, referring to the 2014 film about the World War II art rescue starring Clooney. 

Patrick Adams is an actor too.

He's currently playing a role next door at the Old Globe in a play called Last Match. He's acted in movies, TV shows, but never a painting.

"One can dream," he quipped.