Art beyond borders

Vital works of Cuban art were digitally recreated in 3D to bring them overseas, thanks to a new mixed reality experience from Microsoft and the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO).

Art Basel in Miami Beach is one of the premier events in the contemporary art world. Every year, it offers a platform to international galleries and both renowned and emerging artists. Ella Fontanals-Cisneros — founder of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) and an influential art collector whose vision over decades has brought Latin American art into prominence worldwide — wanted to use that platform to bridge a gap and showcase contemporary abstract art in the U.S. rarely seen outside Cuba.

“There was an important movement of Latin American abstraction … The art that was being made in the ’50s in Cuba was, I would say, the same as something that was happening in Paris,” says Fontanals-Cisneros. “This needs to be seen and this needs to be part of history.’”

This was the inspiration behind CIFO’s Triángulo exhibit, featuring the works of three Cuban abstract artists: Loló Soldevilla, Sandu Darie, and Carmen Herrera. But Darie’s works, in particular, posed a challenge because they were either too large or too fragile to move from Cuba. Fontanals-Cisneros reached out to Microsoft to find a solution via technology — and the result was Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience, a mixed reality experience that recreated Darie’s works as holograms viewable through the HoloLens and the new Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

What made this project so difficult was the scale and environmental nature of the art. Darie’s sculptural mural El Dia y La Noche fills the vestibule of a hospital, while the sculptural ensemble Construcciones is located at a popular intersection in Havana. In order to reproduce these works in mixed reality, photographers and drones captured high-definition images across every angle that were then used to create the 3D objects and their environments.

The resulting mixed reality experience broke down barriers in the art community, giving anyone the ability to see the awe and splendor of Darie’s art, once only available to those living in Cuba. Similarly, Cuban visitors to the exhibit who long ago left the country were able to re-experience iconic works of art they never thought they’d see again. And viewers across the board got a unique perspective they likely wouldn’t be able to get even up close or in person.

“One of the pieces I’m particularly fond of was designed to be moved. But because of its fragility and its location, it’s not actually moved very often,” said Lourdes Orive, Senior Director of Microsoft Mixed Reality Studios. “Because of our ability to recreate it as a hologram, we’re actually able to show it moving, and you can experience it fully in the way that the artist most likely intended.”

Elsa Vega, CIFO Curator

“One of the basic goals of our exhibition is to help people know a little more about Cuban art, specifically."

Elsa Vega, CIFO Curator

Beyond giving attendees a better glimpse of the artwork itself, curator Elsa Vega hopes the exhibit will also promote a broader understanding of Cuban culture and art.

“Up until a few years ago, nobody would have imagined that this type of art, of this quality, would have arisen in Cuba at an international level,” says Vega. “One of the basic goals of our exhibition is to help people know a little more about Cuban art, specifically.”

And ultimately, Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience has the potential to cross not only international boundaries, but generational ones as well.

“Our generation is used to coming to the museums and seeing things on the wall,” says Fontanals-Cisneros. “The new generation wants to experience things.”

Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience was on limited view in December 2017. Triángulo remains on view at CIFO Art Center in Miami through March 4th 2018.

Learn more about how art is being brought to life through mixed reality

Environmental sculpture Arbor Rojo as seen in Mixed Reality