Art Reimagined

For years, the only technology museums used were their websites, but now technology is creating new ways to experience art and is revolutionizing the consumption of art. During spring break, I travelled to Paris and Amsterdam.  I dragged all my friends to multiple museums and noticed that each museum had a different approach for incorporating technology into the visitor’s experience.  Museums can have anywhere between just a few dozen to thousands of art pieces on display.  The IoT ecosystem is helping museums collect data on visitor’s interests, behaviors, and collection’s performances as well as make visitor experience better.  Most museums used to have docents that imparted their knowledge to visitors. Today, you can still have personalized tours, but audio tours are more prevalent.  These provide an overview of famous pieces of art and act as a guide for larger museums that are easy to get lost and overwhelmed in.  Each museum had a different device for their audio tours, from androids to small radio like devices.

In 2018, the Musee du Louvre had an increase of 25% in attendance raising their yearly visitors to 10.2 million and an average of 5,150 visitors a day.  Of these visitors, 71% are foreigners (13% from the US, 6% from China, and 5% from Italy). Due to the high volume of foreigners, the museum and its employees need to be equipped to efficiently communicate and offer services in each of the countries’ native languages.  

The museum is like a maze that one could easily get lost in.  As of 2016, the Musee du Louvre houses 422,000 pieces of art and has 38,000 on display.  Each piece on display has a different story and different historical context that often cannot be told in a small placard placed under the art.  In an effort to facilitate the process, the Louvre has launched a new audio guide tour. Now, when you walk around the museum, you see people staring down at Nintendo DSs. The museum has partnered with Nintendo to create Louvre-Nintendo 3DS XL Audio Guides.  Instead of playing Super Mario Bros, the museum’s curators and lecturers share their knowledge and have highlighted must see pieces on an interactive map, so you don’t have to spend hours wandering around endless hallways looking for specific exhibits. For each piece chosen, the visitor can hear expert knowledge, audio commentaries, “3D photos of galleries, high-definition images of the artworks, and 3D reconstructions.”  The DS tracks your location and acts a guide throughout your visit. There is also an app that is free with in app purchases that range from 1 euro to 5 euros, so visitors can be their own guides. The app has 600 comprehensive descriptions and 600 audio commentaries that are available in seven languages. 

Behind the scenes, the Louvre has been working with startup Arius Technology, which focuses on high-resolution 3D scans of paintings that has a crucial blockchain partnership. The goal is to add painting’s data to the blockchain to adding transparency to the marketplace. They started by experimenting on the “Mona Lisa” where they analyzed the painting down to the brushstroke. The CEO said that they are using 3D digitization technology to change the way we protect, preserve, and live with art, ensuring an art-rich culture for future generations.” Each of these technological additions allows the museum to collect more data about which pieces attract the most attention, their guest’s interests, and can be used to create data driven promotions.

The Musee de l’Orangerie, the home to Monet’s panoramic water lily murals, is a significantly smaller museum and only has around 800,000 visitors per year.  They partnered with HTC VIVE to create a Virtual Reality experience, “Claude Monet: The Water Lily Obsession.” The VR experience is a part of the Monet-Clemenceau collection and provides 360 viewing stations that show the process of painting the murals.  It also transports users and immerses them in the flower gardens in Giverny, which were Monet’s inspiration for his murals.

In contrast to the other two museums, the Anne Frank House is unique in that the house itself acts as the exhibits.  The house welcomes almost 1.3 million visitors with 25% from the US, 15% from Great Britain, and 9% from Germany.  One of the newest features is the in-depth audio tour.  The museum curators have removed most writing from the walls in favor of highlighting photos and specific quotes from Anne’s diary.  When you first enter, everyone is given a rectangular audio guide. Each room has a small box on the wall that starts the room’s commentary once you are within a couple feet.  The goal is to make the museum almost completely silent, while providing an enhanced experience and understanding of Anne Frank’s life in the annex.

Technology has influenced how the art has developed from the invention of cameras to light installations in New York’s MOMA.  Looking to the future, now museums can change the way people consume art, by using technology to reach and educate new customer segments.

12 comments

  1. Really interesting take on the intersection of art and technology! I never thought that these two could truly combine, especially with art that has been around for decades. I love the example of how Nintendo has entered this space because I would have never expected that to occur. You also brought up a really good point that representing different languages is so crucial in museums that attract so many foreigners. Audio devices can definitely help mitigate this issue and I also agree that they will become more prominent in the art industry. I think it is also extremely helpful that there is more data about which paintings are the most popular because this can directly influence how museums go about marketing themselves. Great post!

  2. This is really interesting. I saw a headline the other day that was talking about how many paintings/art pieces sit in museum basements. Take the Louvre’s ratio. They have over 400,000, but only 38,000 on display. Even with cycling those through, so many works of art will sit unseen. The article was talking about the idea of digitalizing paintings so that there would be different avenues for viewing them. However, I love this virtual tour idea. I think museums are often overwhelming. The other day I was at the MFA for an assignment. I got so turned around looking for the section I was suppose to be going to for class. Then I wanted to just see an artist for fun, that my professor mentioned they had a few of her paintings. I walked across the whole museum before finally giving up. Then when I was leaving I couldn’t find the coat check to get my backpack! I could have used a Nintendo for sure!

  3. I love how the Musee de l’Orangerie uses VR to show the gardens that inspired Monet. And I will admit, when I first read the title of your post, I didn’t think I was going to agree with it. I was a little closed-minded and assumed that it meant visitors could see digital photos of pieces of art not on display and found myself thinking there was no difference between this and looking up a painting on the internet. However, your points about seeing the progress of the painting being created or changing the way museums protect masterpieces is incredible. I also found myself thinking of how VR can assist those who are handicapped or disabled to appreciate art even if they’re not able to make it to a museum. I was recently in Italy with my grandpa and he is older so he couldn’t be standing around in museums for as long as the rest of my family could so he opted to stay in the hotel. He might have been able to experience all of the art that the rest of us saw had the museums or certain tourist destinations had the VR tech.

  4. A few years ago I went on a trip with my mom to Newport, RI to see all the mansions in the area. Almost all of them had audio tours available which provided information about the families and the pieces of art that lived in each home. It was cool enough just to walk through the Vanderbilt mansions, but, if there was VR available, it would create a completely different experience. If museums could provide AR readers to their visitors, it could provide an extra source of income for the museum as well as an immersive, historical experience.

  5. Great post on a really unique topic! I think an important point that can be inferred from your blog post is that things like art and smartphones are NOT mutually exclusive. So often, the issue is painted as either-or. Either you spend all day lying around staring at a screen, or you do things like read and exercise and visit museums. The myth of the former seems to be present among older folks (who are quick to tease millennials for being glued to their phones) and as a motif in movies like WALL-E. The truth, however, is somewhere in between the either-or scenario: we often use tech as a means to improve experiences, as is evidenced by the myriad of ways museums are employing things like AR and audio tours to augment visitors’ experiences.

  6. Really great post! We spend so much thinking about the problems with technology that we often overlook the ways in which it can make the world more accessible to people, and this is a great example. You talked about highlighting specific “must-see” pieces at the Louvre – I think museums could take this a step further. In Jacyln’s comment, she mentioned the idea of digitizing art – this is something the royal family has done (to a certain extent) in Britain. They recently announced that they would be uploading images from Clarence House, where Prince Charles lives, to Google Arts and Culture, as well as allowing users to take tours of parts of the house. This would be a great way for museums to provide access to parts of their collections that aren’t currently on display, or to highlight lesser known artists.

    Regarding how the technology can actually change or enhance a visit, I’ve visited the Anne Frank House a few times, most recently back in 2014, before they implemented any sort of audio tour. At that time, they asked that people be quiet, but with information posted around the house, it was hard for people to stay silent. I can only imagine how moving the experience is now, when the only sound you can hear is the audio tour. It might be time to plan my next trip to Amsterdam!

  7. I went to Israel this summer and discovered that they are super into techy museums like this. Literally every museum and tourist attraction uses projections and VR, which is really cool considering a lot attractions are obviously ancient. My favorite was a room full of VR googles at the Western Wall that would let you walk around a recreation of the Temple Mount. It’d be really cool to explore how they became such a leader in integrating tech into art and education in this way.

  8. What a great post. I always love examples where technology is breathing new life into older institutions. nice work!

  9. I got to experience firsthand the implementations of technology on art and history while I was studying abroad, so I really enjoyed reading this! I went to the Anne Frank House and really loved the audio tour. Not only was I able to learn a lot at my own pace, but as you mentioned, I loved the silenced experience. Especially because it’s such an emotional experience, I think it was a great way to preserve it. Art is certainly universal, but before technology, language barriers stood in the way of granting individuals the same learning experience. It’s truly great to see these transformations and refinements become a realty!

  10. Very interesting topic, I enjoyed your discussion. Like many others, and yourself, I also studied abroad and got plenty of first-hand experience with museum tours. I think that the incorporation of technology into museums/art exhibits/etc. is really helpful, but just like with everything can be overdone. Some of my favorite parts of an art museum is wandering around almost aimlessly and seeing pieces that might not be the most famous, but are incredible. My fear is that incorporating screens and guided digital tours takes away from some of the experience of a museum, but especially art exhibits. With eyes glued to screens I worry we will miss out on aspects of the carefully curated experience. I always loved audio tours, and I think that the addition of technology to give context and explanations of significant exhibits/pieces is a very welcome addition to the museum experience. Breaking down language barriers and making the experience more user-friendly through technology is a great way to make art more accessible and universal.

  11. Really interesting article. I have used the self guided Louvre tour and found it was really helpful as I did art history for undergrad and was able to skip the pieces I already knew so I was not restrained by a docent explaining every piece. I also fully support using AI to create virtual museum tours. I know the Met also has virtual tours in place to allow everyone the experience to enjoy art no matter their restrictions, which is great!
    The more ways we can make art universally available the better!

  12. This sounds like a great first step in integrating and old art institution into today’s new and evolving world, both with Nintendo and with the integrated language support, as well as highlighting the most popular pieces, however it breaks my heart to hear people are walking around such an iconic institution staring at handheld devices in the first place. Those with the opportunity to visit the Louvre should embrace the space and the works of art, not their handheld video game console….however in a changing and evolving world, what other chose does the Louvre have in adapting? All for the audio support, but all phones and game consols should stay off.

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