The Sutton Place Hercules

Exhibition Design | Virtual Reality | Marketing | Branding

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have the potential to change the way we interact with gallery and museum objects. Using these technologies we designed an immersive exhibition exploring the story of an extraordinary sculpture, discovered in an overgrown garden in Sutton Place, Surrey.

This was an opportunity to push the boundaries of VR technology, establishing it as a legitimate tool to build narratives, increase transparency and showcase objects.


Art historians, dealers and curators often compare objects to known parallels in order to determine the relative quality of a piece and to place it within a historical context. Museums loan pieces for exhibition for this very purpose, and when this is not possible, objects are often compared using photographs. VR can be a powerful tool in this regard: objects do not have to be transported to an exhibition and objects can be seen freely in the round, unconstrained to certain angles.

Information can be presented as part of a coherent narrative in VR. For example, video and audio clips can play when the user interacts with certain elements in the environment or is in proximity to an object. The experience is catered to the individual rather than the masses. Imagine an introductory video playing at the start of a museum exhibition: visitors would have to wait for it to loop or be lucky enough to enter the room when it starts to get the full effect. In VR, media is consumed on command.

VR can also be used to peer beneath the surface of a work, remove centuries-worth of restoration or view the object under different wavelengths of light to reveal its condition. This has potential to improve transparency within the art market as a warts-and-all approach can be adopted.


To create a series of photorealistic models, we used a technique called photogrammetry. Thousands of photos were taken of each object and stitched together into a 3D model. A series of steps are then taken to make the models usable for the purpose of VR. Although a complex, time-consuming process, we decided that we should photogrammetry props, such as flowers and plinths. The human eye is very good at identifying computer generated images -- in the real world we don't find the perfection inherent to computer generated edges and materials -- so basing as much of the environment on real objects was a must.


We felt it was important to anchor the exhibition to an environment that the art-world knew well. To this end, we recreated a historical room from the New York Armory, the location of the TEFAF art fair. TEFAF is known for its incredible floral displays so we decided to add this detail into the environment as well.


When the visitor puts the headset on, they find themselves in a room with a projector. This gave them time to adjust the headset and get used to the controls. The visitor is then prompted to press a virtual button in front of them that starts the projector. The video introduces the Sutton Place Hercules, sound-bites of an interview with the gardener who discovered the piece playing in the background. Once the video ends, the visitor is transported into the exhibition space with the objects to explore.

The virtual space was calibrated to the exact measurements of a room, which allowed the visitor to freely walk and navigate the exhibition, furthering immersion further.

When close to the object, the user could press a button to see the object with and without restoration, in UV light and be able to compare the heads of all the parallels together.

Th exhibition was very well received. It was fully booked for the duration, featured in The Art Newspaper and resulted in the sale of The Sutton Place Hercules.

A wide angle render of the virtual reality (VR) exhibition featuring the Sutton Place HerculesA render of the virtual reality (VR) exhibition featuring the Sutton Place Hercules. Two sculptural parallels are seen in the image. A render of the virtual reality (VR) exhibition featuring the Sutton Place Hercules. The photogrammetry plinth is seen in the foreground and a sculptural parallel is in the backgroundA render of the virtual reality (VR) exhibition featuring the Sutton Place Hercules. Side view of the bustA render of the virtual reality (VR) exhibition featuring the Sutton Place Hercules. View of the bust under ultraviolet light