by • 9 Oct, 2010 • Expositions, TechnologyComments (3)8912

The Lego-factor of the Stedelijk ARtours

I have been planning to review the ARtours of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam ever since I first devised the Lego-factor. In short, the Stedelijk AR tours allows you to borrow art of the Stedelijk Museum and put it up wherever you like. As the Stedelijk is mostly closed due to a redesign of their building, it’s a great way to have people interact with their art.

The project uses innovative technology such as QR codes and Layar. Furthermore, they’ve presented the project not only around the museum, but also at the Lowlands festival and the Picnic conference. I missed it on both occasions, but at the Dutch Museum Congress I was finally able to borrow some art and use the ARtours.

The Lego-factor is a completely subjective checklist I made myself to understand why I like certain projects and dislike others. And, to add to the subjectivity, I think the nice people behind the Stedelijk ARtours are amazing. So, whatever you do with this evaluation is entirely up to you;-)

How does the Stedelijk ARtours project work?


With your smartphone you borrow art from the collection of the Stedelijk Museum. You scan the QR code of an artwork. This opens Layar. In Layar, you can position the artwork in the space around you. On a wall, on top of a building, in the public space… it’s up to you. Once you’ve placed the artwork, other people using Layar can see it. That way you can work together to build a temporary exposition in the public space, for instance.

Screenshot of the Stedelijk ARtours Replacing the speaker with a Matisse painting

1. Does the project sparkle my imagination?

ARtours revolves around placing art in the augmented reality around you. Wonderful paintings and photography on top of wherever you are! I tried to replace the presentation slides of the speakers at the Museum Congress with art and it sort of worked out. Then I wanted to place more art around me, but hadn’t borrowed more. Then I got so enthusiastic I forgot about the speaker entirely. So I guess, Yes, it sparkled my imagination.

2. Do I immediately think about what else I could do with what the project offers?

Instead of art, using the same technology you could place people on a dance floor, add colour to grey buildings or build a city in a dessert, to name a few of the opportunities ARtours might offer. Yes, this offers so much more.

3. Is the project as simple as it can be, but not any simpler?

To use ARtours you need a (free) QR code reader, Layar, a smartphone that runs apps, and the people of the project nearby to lend you the art pieces. It’s not simple. In fact, it took me at least 15 minutes before I had everything working on a 3G network. It’s not simple and therefore not easily accessible. But then: it’s not easy to think of a different way in which you can have people walk around with Matisses and place them wherever they’d like.

4. Can I use the project both alone and together?

The problem with smartphones is that they’re an interface between you and the world. I don’t particularly like that, as they limit my world. One of the first things smartphones exclude are other people. Nevertheless, I had quite a laugh placing the objects together with somebody else, discover which one they placed and where they placed them. The bad thing was that once somebody had placed a certain art work, I wasn’t able to interact with it any more.

5. Does the project add value to other things I have?

No. Well, it adds some value to my smartphone. But that’s it. It’s completely stand-alone and does not add value to anything else I’m interacting with (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

6. Is the project easy to use, but endless in its uses?

See 3. It’s not easy to use the ARtours, but once you get used to it, it’s OK. The uses are rather limited as well. I just wanted to put some painting on the walls of my living room, but couldn’t, even though I memorized the numeric QR codes.

7. Is it ageless?

I can’t really answer this one. Is art ageless? Surely the collection of art pieces you can borrow is quite diverse, but does everybody feel tempted to augment their reality with art? I don’t know, but I feel the ARtours address a specific audience in a specific age group. Also, I don’t see myself using this for a long time. When the novelty wears off, I’m probably less likely to use it again.

8. Does it answer a need or unobtrusively create a reasonable new need?

Is it addictive? Yes! Using the ARtours made me greedy. I wanted to borrow more art, place it at better locations, see more art other’s placed… Temporarily the Stedelijk ARtours created a strong need to do something and answered that need.


The great thing about the Stedelijk ARtours is that it directly involves its users with art and the environment. It’s a great example of the potential of augmented reality. At the same time, it also shows the limitations of augmented reality and is – as a project – limited by these limitations. It’s a solitary experience, not fully linked with the world directly around you, or the world that virtually surrounds you.

The Stedelijk ARtours felt good, were fun to use, made me happy and enthusiastic, taught me little about art, drained my iPhone battery and have an amazing potential, I think.

As a proof of technology, it’s nearly perfect (I missed the opportunity to make screenshots of my work and the iPhone screenshots are tricky to make without messing up photos). As a project, I think it’s well worth your time and I recommend you check it out when there’s an event close to you (New York, today?). It’s great to use once or twice, for a select group of people, but needs to be developed further to reach its full potential.

(Header image via)

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