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Virtual Absence and Presence in the Museum of Stolen Art

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you the most recent edition of their popular Locating Technology column, a consideration of the Museum of Stolen Art (MOSA). Author Genevieve Quick notes that “MOSA capitalizes on the unknown: the whereabouts of the artworks, sometimes the conditions of their theft or looting. Rather than explaining the significance of given artworks as conventional museums do, MOSA poses questions about their absence.” This article was originally published on April 7, 2016.

Ziv Schneider. Art Detective: The Museum of Stolen Art, 2015; Android VR app.  Courtesy of the Artist.

Ziv Schneider. Art Detective: The Museum of Stolen Art, 2015; Android VR app. Courtesy of the Artist.

Ziv Schneider’s Museum of Stolen Art (MOSA) (2014–) employs virtual reality (VR) to rethink how museums and technology approach embodiment, audience, and collections. As a smartphone app, MOSA allows viewers to navigate virtual galleries, complete with audio tours that contextualize its exhibitions and pop-up didactic texts about the individual works. In harnessing VR’s imaginative possibilities, MOSA displays absent artworks—those that have been removed by criminal acts, war, or dubious historical agreements, domestically and abroad. As a virtual environment, MOSA’s fluid relation to place and audience challenges how museums attempt to represent and inscribe local cultural identities, as well as construct a global citizenry. With several rotating exhibitions spanning from ancient to contemporary civilizations—Stolen European Paintings, Stolen Photographs, The Looting of Afghanistan,The Looting of Iraq, and Recent Thefts are currently on view—MOSA addresses the individual and cross-cultural heritages of Europe, the U.S., and the Middle East. Indirectly, MOSA suggests that conflict and war have been instrumental in many art thefts around the world, historically and more recently. While operating didactically, MOSA also includes many voids that invite questions about museums’ strategies and missions.

As many museums expand, their architectural presence marks their escalating cultural and economic interests. In addition to being repositories of art, brick-and-mortar museums are cultural brands that cities use to elevate or maintain their status as culturally relevant and as tourist destinations. As a VR museum, MOSA sidesteps the battle for cultural capital among conventional museums by offering immateriality and simulation. Downloadable for free, MOSA is portable and easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a Cardboard viewer. Viewers make MOSA present where they are, rather than having to travel to a place, either within one’s city or beyond.

Read the full article here.