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Technology in Art

How Museums & Universities are Utilizing Hi-Tech Tools in Art Exhibition & Research

Article written in collaboration with Indrajeet Yadav, Editorial direction Julien Vandanjon, Assistance Mariana Turiel.

If visuals are engaging, three-dimensional representations are powerful. Combine this with an enthralling story, and the recipe for superpower is complete. Precisely how technology is producing a groundbreaking effect on the world of art exhibition and research. Museums and universities are tapping into this boundless pool of possibilities, although loud whispers of concern are audible.

Virtual Tools, Real Impact

< Video Interview of David McCandles, founder of informationisbeautiful community explains concepts of dataviz ©informationisbeautiful.com

A picture doesn’t speak a thousand words, it speaks sixty-thousand of them! Human brain understands visuals 60,000 times faster compared to text. And stories captivate the inner, emotional being by transporting us into a different, three-dimensional world where pictures come to life. How many words is that?

“Make students gasp,” is how Stephan Murray, Columbia University’s specialist on Medieval Art History, describes the impact of high resolution (HR) artwork images. Technology is transforming the way art is studied and admired. Museums and universities are not lagging behind. 

Technological upgrades create a compelling spectacle for real and virtual museum audience, establish parity between students who can afford to travel to faraway museums and those who cannot, and allow better and non-destructive specimen study, restore damaged artefacts. 

Besides, they enable the artist and museum personnel to be virtually present to narrate the art-piece’s story and empower smaller museums to capture a larger audience without going big. Most importantly, these open the field for multiple artistic interpretations, making art history more prosperous.

Such developments are not going unnoticed. In 2019, the Knight Foundation granted $75,000 collectively to five museums utilizing emerging media, particularly immersive technology viz. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), to better engage audiences. 

Transformative Technology

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) allow people to visit museums from afar. Real or remote, visitors can virtually handle the artwork, visually understand artwork-related data, and even interact with the artist or narrator. 

Knight Foundation grantees include:

  • Museum of Art and Design’s (MOAD’s) Forensic Architecture: True to Scale program has larger public interest at heart – use immersive technology in public interest, such as for evidence verification.
  • American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH’s) upcoming open source software will exhibit collections through interactive narratives and data visualization. With CT-scan and photo-grammetry, visitors can “handle” art-pieces. 
  • Japanese American Museum of San Hose (JAMsj) plans to employ VR and AR to trigger visitor curiosity in the local community, attract younger and fresher audience, and bring together ethnic groups in the region. 
  • The Coloured Girls Museum (TCGM) has plans to make its portraits come alive and tell their story. 

3D Scans capture more details, making better research matter for university students than a 2D picture ever can. With 3D Printing, 3D Scanning can restore damaged artwork. 3D Scanning technology generates near-identical artwork replicas by capturing artwork brushstrokes and textures. 

Tim Zaman, a Dutch researcher, partnered with camera company Canon’s department OCE to “print” high fidelity 3D reproductions of Van Gogh and Rembrandt with a polymer similar to oil paint. If analyzing 3D scans is precious, recreating three-dimensional art pieces is invaluable!

With 13.5 million users in 2015, Smarthistory is replacing art history textbooks. The free tool offers 5-10 minute discussion videos by art historians Stephen Zucker and Beth Harris who visit museums around the world. Plus, they provide high-resolution images of individual artworks and link them to inputs and articles from 200+ specialists. 

What makes Smarthistory a runaway hit is the informal yet eloquent discussions. Besides, they leave the door open for self-thinking, multiple interpretations, and disagreements

Wolff is a free mobile app by Greg Bryda of Yale University. Its touchscreen zoom-in feature facilitates in-depth analysis of high-resolution photos. Artstor offers paid images with additional material and essays

Google Art & Culture provides free online access to artworks from 2000+ top global museums. Through Google Streetview, audiences can visit museums virtually and get an idea of the scale, placing the artwork in the wider context. 

Beacon Technology transmits messages and data when visitors with Bluetooth-enabled devices reach near the artwork. ART BEEKN in Germany first used beacons in 2014. Telepresence Robots are mobile screens that facilitate digital tours of museums. Alaska’s Anchorage Museum experimented with the same. 

< Photogrammetry 3D reconstruction from high resolution photography of a vintage digital camera body through RealityCapture Software ©vandanjon-consulting 2020

Projection Mapping Technology projects a 3D landscape or object on a video display screen. Metropolitan Museum of Art employed the technology to virtually recreate the original look of painted scenes from the Dendur Temple walls

Other Side of the Coin

Not all is hunky dory. There are voices of opposition, as they should be in the interest of a wholesome discussion. Number one in the list is that reproductions diminish the effect of the original art work and affects their scarcity premium, the very basis of their aura!

But then, reproductions often push students and others into visiting the museum. This reality also rides over the argument that reproductions make museums lose visitors and revenues.

Students in Associate Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, Bridget Alsdorf’s Self and Society in 19th-Century French Painting course find real-life paintings as far better study material compared to their images in books. Alsdorf also notes how the paintings galvanize students into knowledgeable discussions.  

With reproductions fast approaching the original, some museums are apprehensive of losing their “cultural patrimony.” However, originals have a special place in the hearts and minds of people, an antique value that reproductions can never replace – come what may!

art, audience, capture, collaboration, communication, culture, digitization, museum, photogrammetry, photography, technology, transmedia

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