The Metropolitan Museum of Art and communications company Verizon have rolled out Replica, a new free app that gives museum visitors the ability to scan specific artworks and objects that can then be transformed into digital 3D images and used on the immersive online gaming platform Roblox. The app comes at a time when more and more museums worldwide are using digital platforms and virtual reality technology to draw in and engage visitors with updated experiences of their existing exhibitions and collections.
Using the in-app map, users have to search for objects scattered around the museum, and although the app is definitely targeted towards children (it’s rated for ages four years and older in the app store), people of any age can track down and collect digital replicas of van Gogh’s straw hat, a Corinthian warrior helmet, and Mäda Primavesi’s floral dress.
Presently, there are 37 objects hidden in various galleries to be collected. And while some of the objects are obvious stand-outs like van Gogh’s self-portrait, others are a bit trickier to find. Take, for instance, the statue of the ancient Egyptian god Horus. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me more than a few minutes to find the correct one because I was convinced that it was at least three other falcon statuettes in the same gallery. I also found myself a bit flustered when I couldn’t seem to find the correct Degas ballerina, which only made the moment I did discover it that much sweeter.
But it was through this trial-and-error that I realized I was paying more attention to historical objects and works that I otherwise might not have given a second glance to.
Once users locate the objects, they can use their smartphones to scan them and turn them into replicated digital wearable pieces, like ballerina slippers modeled after Degas’s ballerina portraits or a “William the Hippo Mask” based on the blue-glazed hippopotamus statuette that dates back to Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. (Apparently, the artifact’s nickname sprang up in a 1931 article in the former British humor magazine Punch.) These images can then be applied to characters on the Roblox platform, but they can also just live in the Replica app for users without Roblox accounts.
Some other artworks highlighted in the app include “Mercury and Cupid” (late 1630s), “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” (1804–6); “Reaching Jaguar” (1906–7; cast 1926); “Vase with Rabbits” (late 16th-century); “Statuette of Anubis” (332–30 BCE); and “Helmet (Zukinnari Kabuto)” (16th-century).
The augmented-reality feature is another fun element of the app that allows users to take photos of their digital collected objects in the museum’s real-world setting. While I might not be able to try on the gorgeous floral dress that Mäda Primavesi wore for her Gustav Klimt portrait, at least my little avatar can, and might I say, they look fabulous. Talk about putting the “AR” in “art.”
In the Roblox game, players can experience virtual versions of The Met, including spaces such as the Great Hall and the museum’s Fifth Avenue entrance. Users also have the option to display their collections in glass cases, not unlike the ones in The Met itself, and take virtual photos in four virtual photo booths inspired by the museum’s collections.
As with all technology, there were some moments the app was a bit glitchy, such as when my phone failed to recognize the “Guardian Figure” (1919–1885 BCE) that I had correctly identified in the Egyptian Art wing. And of course, there’s also the question of The Met’s own history of looted antiquities that made me ask myself more than once whether the object I had found for my digital collection had a questionable backstory. (Perhaps this is The Met’s way of recruiting the public to help assist its four-person provenance research staff in charge of sifting through its collection of over 1.5 million objects?) On another note, I didn’t quite feel comfortable dressing up my character in ancient Egyptian garb and traditional Japanese armor under what I reasoned as “virtual cultural appropriation.”
These criticisms aside, Replica‘s digital scavenger hunt is at the very least an entertaining way to gauge people’s attention in real history and art in a world that sometimes feels like it’s becoming more like the metaverse every day.