Museums showcase Latino art to worldwide audience

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A piece inspired by Frida Kahlo and another of Indigenous Wixárika art in the Mexican Museum seen through the augmented reality platform. Photo: Melissa Zapata for Instagram.com/sfmexicanmuseum

New York's "El Museo del Barrio" and the Mexican Museum in San Francisco are offering a virtual viewing of Latino art through augmented reality, allowing visitors to experience museum exhibits directly from their mobile devices.

Why it matters: The museums' online access makes the work of lesser-known Latino artists available around the world to anyone with broadband and a digital device, rather than limiting the audience to in-person visits to the museums and to major works of art.

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  • For example, Google has a mobile app that allows users to view virtually major artworks by Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and others, as well as to explore major museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

  • Yes, but: The app does not offer as many immersive experiences for exhibits of predominantly Latino art.

How it works: The project, called "The ARt of My Roots/El Arte de Mis RAices," is available on Facebook and Instagram. Viewing the art with the phone's front or back camera offers users different perspectives.

  • When people open the augmented reality effects on their phones, four paintings appear on their screens: The person's actual location will be the background and the camera will focus on the paintings.

  • The user will need to move with the camera, as if the piece were hanging on a museum wall in front of them, to view the next piece of art.

  • "The ARt of My Roots/El Arte de Mis RAices" will be accessible until the end of the year.

Details: The pieces featured in the AR project include...

  • Yvette Mayorga’s "The Procession": Mayorga's artistic style is influenced by 18th century Rococo art and Latin pastry. In "The Procession," the artist of Mexican descent emphasizes the level of isolation that the world has experienced during the coronavirus pandemic. It is displayed in "El Museo."

  • Justin Favela’s "Plátanos Amarillos": Favela, of Guatemalan and Mexican heritage, reimagined Francisco Oller's 19th-century painting of the same name using Favela's own pâpier-mâché technique. It is displayed in "El Museo."

  • Alfredo Arreguín’s "Frida's Messengers": Arreguín, who is Mexican, has created several portraits of Kahlo, who he says is a figure of "wisdom, defiance, and creativity." It's displayed in the Mexican Museum.

  • Martín de la Cruz’s "Wixárika Yarn": De la Cruz celebrates one of Mexico's most ancient indigenous cultures using yarn and beeswax in a technique similar to traditional Wixárika art. It's displayed in the Mexican Museum.

What they're saying: "Augmented reality allows 'El Museo' to not only reach new audiences that enjoy innovative ways of engaging with technology and art, but also those that are not able to physically come to the museum," Rose Mary Cortes, director of marketing and communications for "El Museo," said in a statement.

  • "The idea of visualizing the piece in your home, or in the environment of your choosing, allows you to do a close-up on the piece offering the possibility to better experience the artwork." Bertha Rodriguez, COO of the Mexican Museum, said.

Between the lines: Museums were hit heavily by the pandemic, with many suffering a 70% drop in attendance in 2020, according to UNESCO.

  • As a result, some museums began virtual programs. As the pandemic recovery continues, the agency recommends museums offer more of their collections in a digital manner.

Facebook said in a statement that it partnered with the museums to "shine a spotlight on the diverse voices, history and culture" of the Latino community for Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond.

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