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The Next Dimension: Tour ‘3D: Double Vision’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The exhibit addresses the nature of perception, the allure of illusionism and the viewer's relationship to technology.

With its exhibit “3D: Double Vision,” The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) surveys 3D objects and practice, tracing cycles of optical investigation, creative expression and commercial popularity over the past 175 years.

3D: Double Vision” addresses the nature of perception, the allure of illusionism and the viewer’s relationship to accompanying technologies.

The optical principle underlying all 3D media is binocular vision—the process by which our brains synthesize the information received by our two eyes into a single, volumetric image. The more than 60 artworks featured in the exhibition activate this process by means of mirrors, lenses, filters, or movement—requiring active participation on the part of spectators to complete the illusion.

Many 3D media are included in the exhibition—from stereoscopic photography, film, video, anaglyph printing, and computer animation, to the glasses—free formats of holography and lenticular—alongside 2D works that generate 3D effects by other means. The creators of these works are equally diverse: some are noted artists, others are primarily considered scientists, engineers, directors, or designers, and still others are unknown makers.

“‘3D: Double Vision’ invites the audience to dissect the complexities of vision and perception,” Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg director. “Throughout history artists have experimented with theories of vision and perception to represent, distill, and reinvent objects and the emotions they engender. ‘3D: Double Vision’ brings together the realms of art, science, mass culture, and entertainment, and is a microcosm of Los Angeles itself.”

Many of the archival images used in the exhibit were restored by Stereo D, with the company also consulting on the various modes of 3D projection through the exhibit.

“The proprietary tools we use to create full length feature films in 3D enabled us to assist the LACMA team with the digital image cleaning and stereo rectification, as well as preparing the archival material for the various formats used in the exhibition while maintaining the integrity of the original imagery,” says Stereo D’s founder and president William Sherak.

In addition to the restored historical content, stereographic imagery created by Stereo D for feature films are among the many samples of 3D art visitors will be able to view as part of the show. Showcasing the very latest in 3D film and cinema technology, visitors will be able to view 3D film clip reels projected onto a REAL D Ultimate Screen installed specifically for the exhibition.

“From the beginning, we knew the success of the exhibition would depend in large part on the perfection of the digital assets—we hope to satisfy the high standards of 3D experts and provide a seamless experience for 3D novices,” says Britt Salvesen, head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Prints and Drawings Department at LACMA.

“3D: Double Vision” is organized in five thematic sections that trace the generational cycles of 3D. An introductory section focuses on the optics of binocular vision, as demonstrated by the earliest inventors of the stereoscope and by subsequent artists who wanted to explore not what we see, but how we see.

The second and third sections address two peak periods of 3D popularity: the Victorian era and the 1950s, when education and entertainment were closely intertwined in thriving mass—market visual cultures. The fourth section turns to the 1960s and ’70s, when art and technology partnerships resulted in a range of experimental film, performance, installation, and objects that stimulate altered perception.

Finally, the exhibition looks at a sampling of 3D art from the late 1980s to the present, an era of appropriation, quotation, and reflection on the capacities of human vision and cognition.

To familiarize themselves with the principles of binocular vision and to experience the full effects of 3D, visitors are invited to engage and interact with 3D devices throughout the exhibition. Several works will require the use of optical apparatuses, including Victorian stereoscopes, View-Masters, and modern lens-based devices. For other works, disposable anaglyph (red-blue) and polarized glasses will be provided. Several works do not require devices or glasses.

  • The history of 3D begins in the 1830s with the invention of the stereoscope. Initially considered a scientific device, the stereoscope soon entered popular culture, as Victorian audiences became fascinated with stereo photographs depicting faraway lands, colossal monuments, current events, and comic scenes.
  • 3D motion picture technology followed in the 20th century, paving the way for the Hollywood boom of the 1950s, along with consumer products such as View-Masters and Stereo Realist cameras.
  • Other 3D formats, notably lenticular printing and holography, were invented to generate dimensional effects without the aid of glasses. Today’s artists have access to these analog techniques and myriad digital tools, enabling them to capture spatial information and create virtual worlds.