Modigliani VR – an astonishing virtual portrait of an artist

By Kitty Knowles 22 November 2017

VR puts you in the artist studio for new Modigliani exhibition at Tate Modern.

Amedeo Modigliani is known for his gorgeous accomplished nudes. But the painting sensation was just 20 years old when he kickstarted his career by moving to Paris in 1906.

The French capital was vividly metropolitan – the perfect place for Modigliani to go against his Italian tradition and develop an exciting new visual language.

As a young man, he was passionately influenced by new technology, mixing with the early stars of France’s budding film industry, even living in the same building as a cinema.

And he was culturally progressive, one of the first Europeans to support African art as a movement, rather than as something solely of ethnographic value.

It’s with this openness of spirit, that it’s so fitting to see Modigliani celebrated at Tate Modern, not only in a magnificent collection of gorgeous artwork, but in an extraordinary new virtual reality experience.

It’s astonishingly immersive.

Modigliani VR at the Tate Modern places you in the artist's studio. Image: Preloaded.
Modigliani VR at the Tate Modern places you in the artist's studio. Image: Preloaded.

Modigliani VR

Created by games company Preloaded, and run in partnership with HTC Vive, Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier allows gallery visitors to step into the studio where much of Modigliani’s most important work took place.

With the help of a VR headset, you’ll be transported from the serenity of the Tate to three different chairs in the artist’s studio, at three different points in his life. Each spot gives you the opportunity to interact with different objects in the room, which offer colourful insights and stories about what the artist was really like.

In the first seat, sun pours into your cosy corner. Gazing at a portrait of Modigliani’s wife sets off an soundbite which describes his family circumstances. Staring at a journal on the sideboard prompts it to play out a journalist’s opinion of Modigliani’s potential.

Next, sat in the opposite corner, a darker part of the artist’s practise is revealed. Empty bottles and ring pull cans are strewn across the bed. Again, each object is tied to an account from a friend or contemporary, many in this case about Modigliani’s relationship with alcohol.

Smoke spirals wistfully from a lit cigarette in an ashtray.

Finally, you find yourself sitting in the artist’s chair in front of his easel, prompting expert Tate curators to explain the intricate leanings of his final self portrait and works.

It’s an experience that’s technically stunning, and wonderfully simple.

Authenticity is key

The experience is simple by necessity, Phil Stuart, Creative Director at Preloaded, told The Memo – what better way to draw in Tate visitors who may never have experienced virtual reality of any kind before?

And yet the project is actually the result of 20 painstaking weeks of collaborative research, ensuring each of the 60 objects seen in the studio best reflects how it really, authentically, was.

In order to get it just right, the team not only measured and mapped out Modigliani’s real Parisian studio, they drew on vast swathes of visual and written record.

“First hand accounts from friends, sitters and contemporaries are the main source of the project,” Stuart explains. “When she talks about water dripping water into buckets, through cracks into the ceiling, that suddenly becomes something we can work from.”

In fact every single piece of virtual furniture from the easel to the chaise longue has been carefully designed – with some details sourced from the background of Modigliani’s own paintings, others from photos, or even from friend’s sketches.

“The whole project is about empathy, and taking you back to a moment in time, so you can feel what it was like to be Modigliani in that space,” says Stuart.

“It’s about a offering a greater appreciation of the setting of some of Modigliani’s greatest work.”

Even though he’s today one of the highest sold painters in the world, at that time he wasn’t critically recognised at all, Stuart adds.

“And yet he created some of his most fantastic work in a damp squalid studio.”

Are you ready to take a seat?

Experience Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier at Tate Modern, London from 23 November 2017. More info here