Android Central Verdict
The Stolen Art Gallery brings masterpieces that have been lost to the ages back in a digital format that's educational and immersive. It also serves as an excellent example of how VR can serve to bring a glimpse of the outside world to people with disabilities.
Educational and informative content
Beautiful renditions of lost art
A great set of social additions
Can't overcome Meta's inherent flaws for play area boundaries
Not a lot of content
Why you can trust Android Central
The first time I tried VR — an original Oculus developer headset at a developer conference — I thought it could be a great learning tool that could bring slices of the real world to anyone and everyone. Yes, it can be fun to beat things with virtual sabers, but it's also important to use technology as a tool that makes the world a better place.
This is exactly what The Stolen Art Gallery does, and it does it very well.
The Stolen Art Gallery: What is it?
Since this isn't a shooter or other sort of common VR game, it's worth talking about what The Stolen Art Gallery is.
There have been hundreds of paintings that have been stolen throughout the years, and artists like Rembrandt and Manet have created beautiful work that the world isn't likely to actually see ever again.
The people at Compass UOL have recreated these works in digital form, and built a small interactive gallery to display them. Thoughtful additions like being able to view them together with friends, or share your experience through social media, make everything a little more fun.
Of course, any gallery exhibition needs to also teach us more about the work on display. In The Stolen Art Gallery, each painting comes with an information panel that tells you who the artist was, the medium, the year it was created, and a description of the work itself.
In addition, you can also hear even more about the artist and the work through a virtual tour guide. This is very much like what you would find in a physical art gallery.
The Stolen Art Gallery: What I loved
Admittedly, I'm not the world's biggest fan when it comes to the fine arts. I do appreciate them, and a trip to the National Gallery or the Freer Gallery of Art is a great way to spend a summer Saturday, but I don't live and breathe the fine arts like many others do. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate and enjoy a beautiful work or the excellent way it is presented.
And that, in a nutshell, is exactly what I love about The Stolen Gallery. I had no idea there were great works stolen and unrecovered, and was eager to learn more about them. The Android app is great and just as informative as the Quest version, but the additional immersion that VR adds made this app an instant favorite.
The controls add to the experience in a big way. Because it's VR, you literally touch things with a virtual finger, and learning more about a painting is as easy as tapping the info button or the button to hear the presenter tell you everything about the work.
Additional features, like air drawing or social sharing are easily accessed by tapping your virtual wristwatch and a corresponding icon. There is no user manual or tutorial because you really don't need one. Everything is presented in a way that's easy to understand and use, and I think that is the mark of a great app.
The Stolen Art Gallery: An excellent accessibility tool
I'm very lucky when it comes to my disability. Yes, I would love to be able to walk and run and play softball like I used to be able to do, but being in a wheelchair doesn't stop me from leading an enjoyable life because I have wonderful people that help me. Not everyone is that lucky.
Some people are forced to be left behind and alone because they don't have such a great network of support, and for them, VR can be a way to live a little. It's hard for someone to imagine what life being stuck at home can be like; Doing it for six months to stave off a global pandemic brought out the worst in many of us, because nobody likes to be left out of life.
This is the very best thing about The Stolen Art Gallery: It can allow someone who would never be able to experience seeing the fine arts in a gallery setting a means to do it. The fact that these are the rarest works because they have been removed from the art world is a bonus, too.
I challenge every tech company to build something like The Stolen Art Gallery. Compass UOL is tiny when compared to giants like Google, Facebook, or Apple, yet they have done an incredible job here. We need more like it.
The Stolen Art Gallery: What I didn't like
There are two things that I didn't enjoy about the app, but one of them is completely out of the developer's hands.
We'll start there — Meta's Quest "room" setup sucks for anyone without a full range of motion. Defining the boundaries is almost impossible if you can't rotate a full 360 degrees; the headset seems to constantly forget the floor height you set, and even if everything works and you get it set up, you'll probably run into instances where apps just go haywire and ignore everything until you restart them.
It would be easy to blame this on every app I have tried, but Occam's razor tells me the one single point of failure — the Quest 2's operating system and setup — is the likely culprit.
In any case, I did run into parts of The Stolen Gallery app where I wish I was just able to stand up and tap something that was just out of reach.
The second thing is that I want more! The Stolen Art Gallery features five lost works displayed in amazing detail, and is the first time I have ever actually thought about a Metaverse. Because of how the app sparked my interest, I found out there are hundreds of other paintings that have been stolen or lost, and I sure would like to see as many of them as I can.
The Stolen Art Gallery: Should you install it?
The Stolen Art Gallery is free to install and enjoy from Google Play, The Oculus Store (though it's still an early open beta right now), and Apple's App Store. Of course, the VR version offers the best experience but you don't need a VR headset to take a look.
Unless you're an art historian, you will learn something. Even then, you can enjoy seeing masterpieces that you would never get to see otherwise, and they're all in high definition right before your eyes.
If you're unable to get out and about to see a "real" art gallery, trust me when I tell you this is almost as good. In addition to everything I've said above, know that an hour at The Stolen Gallery is a great way to spend your next free Saturday.
The Stolen Art Gallery is a great idea that has been wonderfully executed. VR doesn't have to be about lasers or sabers to be great, and this is one of the apps that proves that theory. It's also a great way for people who can't visit a physical gallery to enjoy some fine art.