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Schenck’s Take: Rise Of The Digital Museum

Posted on January 24, 2011 and read 3,454 times

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erniesheadshot Schenck’s Take: Rise Of The Digital MuseumErnie Schenck
Freelance Creative Director



Funny thing about art museums. Without visitors, they kind of have trouble staying viable. Unsurprisingly, there simply aren’t enough snotty poseur rich people to sustain many museums. What to do? What to do?

This is the situation I found myself confronting when I was brought in to help solve this very problem. And it is a big problem. On the one hand, you’ve got all this remarkable art, extraordinary works by some of the most brilliant minds ever to put brush to canvas or a chisel to marble.

But then there’s that pesky other hand. The one that frankly couldn’t get excited by a Degas or a Botticelli or even a Warhol. Not if they could fly around the room. Not if they came to life and danced a jig. Not even if they were on fire.

I had a few thoughts. “What if you brought in stuff that ordinary people were actually interested in.” Maybe an Art Of The Ax exhibit. Famous guitars. Clapton. Beck. Richards. McGuinn. Slash. Could be fascinating. Yep. Could be. But not to these museum guys. Hard to let go of your personal perception of art.

But hey. That was then. This is now.

What used to be a colossal bore for so many, now has a legitimate shot at owning a far bigger piece of the entertainment pie than most of us would have thought possible. Not that the art has changed. It hasn’t. But somehow it looks a lot cooler to a lot more people than ever before thanks to a long overdue convergence of digital technology and a commitment to involving audiences personally in the experience.

Monet 2010

Call me an uncultured swine, but I know as much about Claude Monet as I know about pork belly futures. But then I lost myself in Monet2010 and I now consider myself one of the foremost authorities on the French impressionist this side of the Seine.

Oh alright, maybe not. But Monet 2010 is such a gorgeous and mesmerizing experience, it’s hard not to come out of it feeling like the inner elitist art lover I’ve been denied all these years because of a stubborn preoccupation with Batman comic books, Grand Theft Auto and George Romero movies.

Aesthetically, this is a gorgeous site. Which is as you would expect it to be considering it’s a virtual art gallery celebrating one of our most important and beloved painters. Between the images and the sound design– a little annoying after a while but not obnoxiously so– the experience as you drift from painting to painting is as poetic and dimensional as anything I’ve seens on the web. Along the way, you’re pulled along by a series of anecdotes and moments in the life of the man himself, which only adds to the depth of the exhibition.

What makes Monet 2010 so effective is the level of personal participation it brings to visitors. This isn’t just another digital gallery that truth to tell isn’t tangibly different from the real world version. As Monet goes through changes, you feel them yourself. Not just in the man but the work itself. Summer turns to Fall, light turns from gray to purple gray, and you experience every little shift. No other museum that I know if comes close to achieving this online.

Live information is made available every day to the news media with a section loaded with articles, press releases, videos and special interviews with people close to the exhibition.

Fill The Gap

I’ll admit it. I’m a crowdsourcing skeptic. If you tell me that thousands of people, turned loose on a creative problem, are going to consistently conceive anything of brilliance or consequence, well, let’s just say that with all due respect to the folks at Doritos, I am not buying it.

But give the average art lover an opportunity to play museum curator, no, make that thousands of average art lovers, and you’ve got a pretty effective campaign going for you.

The Luce Foundation Center in the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum space displays at any given time over 3,000 pieces. The Smithsonian lends the work out. Which means more often than not, there are gaps, bare spaces where great art normally would be. Ordinarily, a Luce curator would decided what new stuff might fill the empty spots.

Then somebody said, “Hey, what if we democratized the curation process. What if we open it up to everybody. Let people vote on what they’d like to see us put on display”. The result was Fill The Gap. Launched in 2009, it was a glimpse into the future of the digital museum experience.

Using Flickr, the Luce folks uploaded shots of their entire collection, then invited people like you and me to vote on which artwork we’d like to see fill the gap. They look through the suggestions, pick a winner, and next thing you know, blammo, gap filled.

I might still be an uncultured swine, but if museums keep moving toward ever more impressive digital experiences, and they will, even an artistic illiterate like me might learn a thing or two. Grand Theft Auto notwithstanding.

  • Anonymous

    When I wrote this column, I hadn’t yet heard about Google’s Art Project. It’s incredible and yet another example of how art and technology are converging to create a funadmentally new experience. You can check it out here:…/




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