Week 8

I think there are contradictory expectations for a museum’s online presence to be cutting edge while also being accessible and providing information not in the galleries themselves while also presenting new information. While this may not be fair to the museum, it reflects the varied visitors to the museum websites. To be successful, I think there is a need for museum digital content to be accessible to everyone. While they are online, museums need to meet their public where they are, mainly social media like Instagram, twitter, and Facebook. While most museums have been present on twitter and Instagram, I think Facebook has been losing attention. This, while sites like Buzz feed are taking off, primarily from their content being shared through Facebook. Personally, I really enjoy videos like those we looked at from LACMA where the viewer can get a glimpse into the functioning of a museum. It would be interesting, however, to see a museum flood the internet with short and funny videos about their collection and things related to it.

For online classes, a practical option that I would have loved as a high schooler would be an online supplemental AP Art History course that draws on the collection of an encyclopedic museum, like LACMA, that I would have been able to visit and tangibly see. This would probably be more popular with students who could actually visit the museum. The opportunity to study a work and then visit it in person can be an eye-opening for a student. On a more random note, I would love to take a class on period dress, learning the evolution of fashion, particularly in the 17th to 19th centuries. A class like this could be illustrated with actual outfits in a museum’s collection, along with paintings and other works of art that depict the fashion of the time of commissioning.

The most effective digital story telling that I encounter is that on the radio. Podcasts my personal go to for when driving or walking to class. This American Life and Serial are both radio based shows that have has success because of their particular presentation of stories to their listeners. KPCC recently began a culture show called The Frame. It looks at art, film, and general pop culture. I love it because I am presented with new artists, musicians and films that I would not otherwise see, however they rarely spend time talking about actual art. Understandably so, it’s hard to talk about such a visual art form without images, or at least soundbites. I think this would be really interesting for a museum to tackle, as an authority on culture, museums are really in a place to fill this void and begin literal conversations on their collections, exhibitions, and current events in the art world.

Week 7: Smartphone Headset

The Smartphone headset presented by Daniela De Angeli and Eamonn O’Neill from the University of Bath seeks to engage the visitor through technology by augmenting the visitor’s museum experience.

How the headset actually works

The headset works by using the visitor’s own phone to record and project information onto a transparency in front of the visitor’s eyes.  Thus far, the researchers have run a small study testing lighting, color and image blurriness.  When the headset is less a prototype, they plan on testing it in National Trust’s sites.


There are possibilities of displaying an infinite amount of information that the visitor would not originally have had. Curating would certainly be affected.  The headset impairs peripheral vision and curators may have to edit the exhibitions to allow the headsets to be really effective.

The Smartphone headset prototype


The pros for a headset over a purely phone based augmentation was that holding the phone is limiting.  Having the phone in your hand was a distraction in it of itself.

I would argue that having the headset on itself is a distraction as it would take a while for visitor’s to become adjusted to the having something cover and interfere with their vision.  It would certainly take some time, at least, for the novelty of the headset to wear off. Certainly it would be an initial distraction to the visitor but I see there being a lot of potential to what could be done with the projections.


Kara Walker

The readings this week take on the essential topic that we have been talking about for many weeks now in class.  The article “Museums see different virtues in virtual worlds” looks at how the Met and The Brooklyn Museum have had two different approaches to their digital efforts.  The Met reflecting its encyclopedic perspective reflected in its online presence, the Brooklyn Museum, by comparison, is a more local museum by nature, its online presence attempts to engage its local community.

“The Museum Interface” is a direct conversation with two museum site designers who discuss the complications with the museums and their content online.  A large part of their conversation centers on Kara Walker’s installation of, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, a mega installation.  The problem presented but the conversation was that many people were deterred from going and experiencing the work in person because of the installation’s proliferation in social media.

This removal or distancing from the object is one that I personally, am most concerned about.  Images and other online engagement would preferably incite wonder and a desire to see the works in person.  I think we forget that we miss part of the experience of the object when we only see it on a 2D screen.  With the Walker exhibit, we are missing a personal sense of scale since we cannot be in the same room with it; in addition to missing the we miss things like our sense of smell.  With the Walker show we miss the scent and atmosphere of the sugar factory of her works are installed in.

I had the opposite reaction that the commentator’s friends had to the proliferation of the exhibit on social media.  Instead of seeing images or video and being satisfied, I would love to see it that much more.

This link describes the process that Walker went through for the exhibit. This video shows the Walker’s process and the final product.


Cataloging non-western art

The Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) guide is an extensive guide that seeks to recommend how collections should be documented.  It covers things that are seemingly obvious, like being consistent, but when applied become so complex it can make your head hurt.  The CCO lies down suggestions, not guidelines.  Ideally, it seems that the guidelines could make it easier for collections to speak to one another, such as when a museum loans, but there are so many suggestions and factors that need to be considered in this that I don’t think it becomes any easier with application.

Last quarter I was part of a class that worked on creating a digital archive of images for African art classes.  This essentially consisted of researching the images, which were already collected on artstor, and adding to them all the catalog or metadata that we could find on them.  While this seemed like an easy process at the get-go, it quickly became more complex as we began the research proartstorcess because the works of art were so diverse.  Being non-western, much of their metadata did not fit into the traditional categories that artstor had.  How do you classify a work’s “period/style” when it’s a form that is widely used throughout a specific culture’s existence? How do you give it a country of origin when the work was from a cultural group that crosses national borders?

We were able to find workarounds but the general naming convention of cataloging sites such as artstor and Dublin core can be awkward when applied to non-western works.  The CCO attempts to cover all of its bases but the fact still stands that we have not fully addressed how to mediate between western and non-western art.

Week 3: Open Cultural Data

Mia Ridge’s article “Where next for open cultural data in museums” brings up the history and usage of the open cultural data. Ridge highlights events such as the US and UK launching open data sites in 2009 and the Brooklyn museum’s release of its data through an API as key moments in the wave towards digitizing and making cultural data available. As a short aside, API is an abbreviation of “application program interface” even this definition is not very clarifying however and it is difficult to find a practical definition online.

Ridges goes on to make the point that now while many museums have made data available, the data is not used as much as the institution or organization might expect.  She points to murky licenses and inconsistent data as potential reasons for this underuse.

I resonate with this point as for my DH 101 project my group was working with data collected from a series of menus in the New York Public Library collection.  The library has been working to digitize the menus in a series of ways they have, however, been relying on public volunteer support.  This is problematic as it leads to inconsistent inputs such as in capitalization of names and the input of units.  For my own group, this kept us from being able to take our research in particular directions.

We also experienced there being too much data available.  While this may not seems like a problem it became overwhelming and the length of our project forced us to narrow our focus.  This speaks directly to the museum’s sentiments on their data not being used as much as they would have thought.  Museums house many objects, each containing its own extensive metadata and data contained within the object itself.  When we move to digitize this, the data produced is extensive and this makes it difficult for it all to be used.

Week 2: LACMA’s South Asian gallery

In “The Exhibitionary Complex,” Bennett describes the role museums played early in their inception as places though which perception is manipulated and the public, in a sense, controlled through them.  Greenblatt presents resonance and wonder which are tools, really, through which the museum is able to influence the audience’s perception of the objects.

ssea_reinstallation_20110106-vw006Greenblatt’s definition of resonance and wonder are part of the museum effect, how an object, by simply being placed inside the museum, is elevated from being an object of function and décor to being seen as a fine piece of art.  Resonance and the cherishing of objects for the cultural history they carry is part of this effect.  Wonder also plays into this.  Greenblatt’s description of “boutique lighting” can be seen in LACMA’s South Asian and South East Asian galleries where works have been arranged within a dark room with their own, individual spotlights.

The effects of this curating are double sided.  While the object focus elevates the works and causes wonder or admiration for the skill and beauty, the cultures of origin are being isolated from the viewer.  The dark walls and light create such “awe” that the works begin to feel other worldly.  The works are being admired and praised out of our admiration of their aesthetic beauty and we are not given any knowledge or understanding of the culture that produced them.

I would argue that these galleries do not contextualize and justly historicize the works they present as there is little didactic information attached to them.  In essence, there is so much wonder created that the viewer is not able to place the work in a cultural context and resonate with them.