Here at blog HQ, we’re split over the e-book phenomenon that’s occurred over the last year or two. Some (like Katie R. and Erin H.) are hard-core fans of physical books, while I (tech junkie that I am) obsess over iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and various other gadgets. But despite the hesitance of some, here at the Art Institute we’re moving ahead full throttle and contributing to the technological future of museum publishing.
For the past two years, a cross-departmental team has been hard at work, envisioning a new technological environment to support the authoring and publishing of scholarly catalogues in a digital form. In addition to recent developments that improve the experience of digital reading—features that include columns, horizontal page ‘turning’, hyperlinked footnotes, and inline imagery—we have endeavored to define our online catalogue by meeting and exceeding the qualities of our established ink-on-paper books. We considered how these print catalogues are used for research: how the scholar finds an artwork entry, moves between entries, holds the book, makes notes, reads footnotes, etc. Rather than simply imitate a scholar’s interaction with a print catalogue, we have worked to provide enough familiar clues while developing an intuitive experience online that allows the scholar to explore, question, and easily cite entries in a whole new way. Our goal is to enable unprecedented access to the unique intellectual content and research of our authors.
We are currently finalizing a prototype of the online catalogue developed with IMA Lab, the esteemed programming team from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This partnership has led to exciting out-of-the-box responses to the scholarly publishing challenge. Three pilot entries will be published on the Web in October as part of a usability study. Above you can see some images from the Art Institute’s prototype publication, Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, that will be included in the study.
This work has been motivated and generously funded by a grant from the Getty Foundation as part of the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI). To learn more about our development process, you can read a paper presented at the recent Museums and the Web 2011 Conference in Philadelphia.
Sure, serving as the official Twitterer of Tweets in promotion of Kings, Queens, and Courtiers: Art In Early Renaissance France has its perks and benefits. For one, @CourtierRobert has a much easier time swooning the maidens than I ever have. However, it would be misleading to say it’s easy translating our 16th-century French courtier into the Queen’s English, and in 140 characters or less. Suffice to say, it can be rather difficult to find any way to shorten words like “thitherfro” and “flibbertigibbet.” However, the greatest challenge has been keeping this knavish character in line. Our French courtier has a taken life of his own.
In the first couple of weeks, sir Robert, the once and future courtier, kept mainly to his courtly duties, harkening his followers to the goings-on of the museum and, especially, Kings, Queens, and Courtiers. However, it wasn’t long before I found the tail wagging the dog. Not unlike Slaughterhouse-Five’s Billy Pilgrim or say, Encino Man, Robert the Courtier was uprooted from his own time and placed in a completely new environment. One had to wonder what sir Robert would take fancy to most readily in today’s world. Would he spend his off-hours at Medieval Times? Would he avail himself of our modern conveniences? While he seems to have never heard of Leonardo da Vinci or Vincent van Gogh, he does seem to have familiarized himself with Lady Gaga, but not so much our Lady Queen of England. Perhaps most surprisingly, he has expressed no greater fondness than for the victuals of our day, namely Italian beefs and jalapeño poppers.
By the end of his first month, sir Robert the Courtier’s oversized personality had not only taken over the Twitter feed, but he’d invaded my life as well, infecting my speech with all kinds of ungainly high prose. Lacking his kingly charisma, I have not found it to endear me to others in quite the same way. Just the same, I must say he has done quite well with his bully pulpit of social media. As we sally forward to the end of the exhibition this May 30, I am beginning to wonder if we’ll get rid of sir Robert that easily. I think he’s rather taken to his newfound celebrity. Perhaps he’ll stay on here in Chicago, if only for the cheap fast food and celebrity trash mags.
Ever wanted to examine the brushstrokes of a Monet during your commute to work? Now you can. Ever wanted to hear a curator talk about Gauguin’s time in sunny Tahiti while you’re anticipating winter in Chicago? You can do that too…and a whole lot more.
Today, the Art Institute proudly introduces our first mobile app, a guide to the museum’s world-renowned Impressionist collection. Based on the catalogue The Age of French Impressionism by curators Douglas Druick and Gloria Groom, this searchable digital distillation of the publication offers detailed information and high resolution illustrations of over 100 works of art, along with artist biographies, panoramic views of four of the Impressionist galleries, and an illustrated timeline of Impressionism and Chicago.
As Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Collections Management at the Art Institute, I’ve had the pleasure of being intimately involved with this app from the beginning. Yet with its launch this morning, after the almost 9 months we’ve been working on it, it was only as I watched visitors explore the app for the first time that I was again reminded about just how downright cool this new handheld technology actually is. We’ve published a digital book—and an art book, nothing less—for the palm of your hand. And it’s magical!
The app is available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android at the App Store and Android Market (with a reduced sticker price for the first two weeks!) Also, if you happen to be in the museum, stop by Gallery 200 for a test drive.
—Sam Q., Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Collections Management
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON April 23, 2010, Comments Off
By now, we’ve all learned the benefits of online catalogues. Whether it’s Amazon, Netflix, or the Art Institute’s own Web Collections database, a search engine pointed at a bunch of data is great for finding stuff fast. For the museum, digitally publishing images and caption—or what we in the business call “tombstone”—information on more than 47,000 works of art in our collection has been a great way of making the AIC’s holdings accessible to our online visitors. But so far, most museums haven’t tried to go too much deeper than what research librarians call “resource discovery.” Publishing expansive primary research on artworks is generally considered an entirely different proposition. Historically, that has always been a matter of ink on paper—until now.
A project as exciting as it is daunting, a new kind of web-based collections catalog is now currently being developed by the museum. It will deliver the broad array of scholarly, art historical information usually associated with a weighty bound volume in an easily used digital format.
Over the next four years, curators Gloria Groom and Douglas Druick will be collaborating with their colleagues in the museum’s paintings conservation laboratory to research and write lavishly illustrated and indexed catalogue entries about the museum’s Monet and Renoir paintings. Accompanying the essay on each painting will be primary archival information on collectors; histories of ownership (provenance); publication and exhibition histories; analytical reports including x-rays, infrared, and ultraviolet photography; and the results of many other kinds of sleuthing.
All of this will allow online readers the chance to understand the pictures through the curators’ and conservators’ eyes—as well as have the unprecedented opportunity to explore the primary evidence in an interactive environment and develop their own conclusions.
—Sam Q., VP for Collections Management, Imaging & Information Technology/Museum CIO
Pierre Auguste-Renoir. Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Rowers’ Lunch), 1875. Potter Palmer Collection.
POSTED BY Liz N., ON March 04, 2010, Comments Off
Developing an exhibition always requires an intense amount of collaboration, but the groundbreaking research involved in the museum’s massive spring exhibition, Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917, pushed us to use new technical tools. For the exhibition, curators and conservators approached Matisse’s work like a forensic case, closely examining the artist’s working methods, experimental techniques, and compositional choices—all of which required extensive historical, scientific, and technical research. These were shared efforts undertaken by the co-organizers of the exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
This research produced literally volumes of information, and curator Stephanie D’Alessandro at the Art Institute recognized the challenge of keeping the research team informed of one another’s complex and sophisticated work, which included hi-res composite images of x-rays of paintings, infrared photographs, three-dimensional modeling, and even algorithmic restructurings of paintings from old photographs. And curators and conservators both in Chicago and New York needed to have complete and immediate access to all of this material.
To facilitate this research collaboration, the Art Institute set up a “Matisse WebShare.” The WebShare allowed curators and conservators to securely share large image files via the Internet from any place in the world. Many of these images were huge unwieldy files—some so large they can’t be opened on a standard desktop computer. To make this material accessible, we used a tool called Zoomify, which allows quick microscope-like access to the images. Kristin Lister, a paintings conservator at the Art Institute, noted that using Zoomify on the WebShare revealed information she would have not otherwise seen—a clear case of science serving art.
The Matisse WebShare was so successful that we have since set up other WebShares to facilitate collaboration for exhibitions and scholarly publications. You’ll find much of this “evidence” in the forthcoming catalog and upcoming exhibition, which opens on March 20th and promises to be one of the definitive exhibitions on Matisse.