When I was in school studying art history—wait, no I swear this is not THAT kind of story—I was as captivated by what I was learning outside of class as what I was learning in a dark slide lecture. A footnote or a random parenthetical comment would send me down a rabbit hole, which wasn’t easy to do in the days before the internet. If I read that Marcel Duchamp gave up art for chess, the next few days would find me at the photocopier so I could squirrel away diagrams of famous chess matches. A brief mention of the odd life of Joseph Cornell—who lived at home, worked in his garage, and dreamily read movie star magazines—had me buried in the library stacks flipping through bound issues of Look magazine and thinking about a world in which winter coats were advertised for $3.99 at department stores.
This weirdly curious frame of mind applied to all of us who worked on the Art Institute’s new app, “Closer,” which was launched last week. Did I mention the app was free? We know that music was integral to Kandinsky’s thinking, but what was he actually listening to? We’ve seen Picasso’s famous muse Marie-Thérèse Walter a million times in his paintings, but what did she really look like? What’s on the back of a Joseph Cornell box? The new app was fueled by these sorts of questions and gave us an opportunity to put some cool stuff in your hands.
You can read in the app that Duchamp said he considered “working for a living slightly imbecilic.” Some days we might be inclined to agree. But not the days we were working on the app, reading the transcripts of the famous Brancusi “Is it art?” trial or combing through our archives for pictures of the curators and collectors who laid the foundation of our modern collection. Download the free app—available only on iOS devices via the app store—and let us know what you think. Our verdict: not imbecilic at all!
[Ed. note: For all of you wondering about the title of this post, click here.]