Author: Shilpa Bhongir
Once an institution characterized by the revival of the ancient or antique, the art museum is finally making its entrance into the digital world. Several prominent art museums have created a plethora of online applications to enhance visitor experience both in person and digitally.Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum is one such museum hoping to augment its current exhibitions by featuring related podcasts and videos on its website.
The Norton Simon’s podcast and video series, which began in 2008, explores the museum’s visual arts through discussions and interviews with prominent curators, scholars and artists. These seven to ten minute clips provide listeners an opportunity to learn more about current exhibitions at the Norton Simon prior to their visits, or to catch up on exhibitions that they may have missed.
While the museum website states that these online tools are a “fun and informative way to experience the Museum’s world-renowned collections and exhibitions,” they instead come across as erudite and often unrelatable. The intangible quality of seeing a piece of art in person cannot be replaced by any sort of online medium. In a museum, the viewer has an opportunity to create his or her initial impression of a piece and create a more intimate relationship with artwork that does not rely solely on external analysis, but rather on individual interpretation.
Experts from other prominent museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., provide the critiques and analyses that constitute the podcasts. Listeners who cannot actually see the artworks, however, will find it difficult to follow the conversation.
The content of the podcasts serves better as a supplementary aid for someone with prior knowledge of the work rather than someone trying to experience the piece for the first time.
Like the podcasts, the Norton Simon website’s online videos, which highlight their exhibitions, fail to communicate the visual subtleties of the artwork.
Videos such as “Lesson on the Cherry Blossom: Japanese Woodblock Prints” and “Surface Truths – Abstract Painting in the Sixties,” incorporate a visual element to the art. However, they still lack an immediate feeling of relatability and closeness. The videos zoom in on details, yet can never totally reveal the complexity of the texture or paint strokes of an art work. The subtle details are important elements that help a viewer connect to and appreciate a piece better.
While both Norton Simon’s online podcasts and videos fail to build an intimate connection between viewers and the art, their mere creation and implementation highlights the growing prominence of technology in the museum experience overall.
In addition to the the Norton Simon Museum, which has two iPhone applications for users to listen to podcasts, plan visits to the museum, and learn about current events, the Getty and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) have created similar applications for iPhone and Android.
The digitizing of the museum has its benefits. Podcasts, videos and mobile applications can be helpful for an in-person visit to the museum. Yet even in our digital world, the experience of a visit to the museum, which helps forge a meaningful understanding between viewer and the art, still surpasses all.
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