For many years, patrons were asked to turn off their cellphones when they entered a museum. Now, they’re encouraged to use them with technologies like augmented and virtual reality, touch-screen tables and customized audio tours. The goal is to enhance the visitor’s experience while keeping the artwork front and center. Here are some examples.
Dreams of Dalí
This virtual reality experience drops the viewer into Dalí’s 1935 painting “Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus,’” where he or she moves through a vast desert full of dreamlike oddities, like enormous elephants on stick legs, or a ringing telephone. The technology, including headsets from Oculus Rift, allows users to control where they want to go within the painting. A 360-degree video gives a taste of the experience.
Created by the digital ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners for “Disney and Dalí: Architects of the Imagination,” the exhibition ran from January to June at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., in a collaboration with the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.
A Global Platform
Museums all over the world are digitizing their art collections using Google’s Art Camera, which produces images with more than one billion pixels.
By building the Google Arts & Culture platform for the web and as an app, Google has enabled museums to upload that content so that it can be shared widely. The tool was created by the nonprofit Google Cultural Institute, based in Paris, and was made available at no cost for about a year.
Simulated Chatter at Your Elbow
Last winter, 3M, based in a Twin Cities suburb, inaugurated the 3M Art and Technology Award Competition to help the Minneapolis Institute of Art reach new audiences. The winning project was Overheard, an audio narrative for museum visitors created by the design studio Luxloop.
Visitors download the app, which sets off audio content when they stand near a piece of art. They may hear fictional characters talking with one another about the artwork or perhaps about something unrelated. The idea is to mimic what patrons experience when overhearing the conversations of strangers.
An Unusual Perspective
With a tap by the viewer, an app from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art tells a story about a piece of art from an unusual perspective. “It’s sort of like traveling somewhere new with a smart, opinionated friend telling you all these great stories about what you’re seeing,” said Keir Winesmith, head of web and digital platforms at the museum.
In an audio tour of “German to Me,” for example, an exhibition of postwar German art, patrons hear a young German-American interviewing her mother and grandmother about their experiences growing up after World War II.
Other guided tours include one with the actors Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr from the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley,” who are unabashedly confused by much of the art.
“They ask the curator: ‘What is this? What’s going on?” Mr. Winesmith said.
Sight-Impaired See Art Afresh
In a move coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago implemented Coyote, which brings works on the museum’s website to life for the visually impaired with descriptions that are read aloud using a screen reader.
Other museums can use and modify the software. Ultimately, the system will be able to store a large trove of descriptions of different lengths in various languages, sending the message that everyone can be part of the world of art.
“It’s a way for us to say, ‘Come on in, you don’t need a degree in art history, you don’t even need to be able to see,’” said Susan Chun, the museum’s chief content officer.
Delights and Damnation
With Bosch VR, a virtual reality app created by the British digital agency Burrell Durrant Hifle, viewers travel through “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a triptych by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. The journey begins through the Garden of Eden on the back of a fish, and proceeds through Earthly Delights, where viewers see spectacular birds, orchards and festive naked people.
Then, said John Durrant, the owner of Burrell Durrant Hifle, “we descend into hell” — viewing a pair of dagger-wielding, disembodied ears; a man being crucified across a harp; a pig reading the last rites. “Collections are static and still and flat,” he said. “So the idea of moving an artwork around and feeling it as a living thing in space is irresistible.”
The painting is included in a retrospective that’s part of“Bosch Year 2016,” a series of events that honor the 500th anniversary of painter’s death, and it’s being held in his hometown, ’s-Hertogenbosch.
The app can be downloaded at no cost from Google Play or the iTunes App Store and used with a custom-designed Google cardboard headset that holds the user’s smartphone. The headset can be purchased from the National Gallery in London or from Amazon.
Wander a World of Museums
Woofbert, creator of the app WoofbertVR, says it lies at the intersection of virtual reality and arts education. Once downloaded, the app works with an Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR headset, enabling the wearer to wander virtually through museums and galleries all over the globe. It is intended to work with additional VR headsets as they enter the market.
Woofbert has relationships with about 30 cultural institutions worldwide, including the Courtauld Gallery in London, where visitors using WoofbertVR can delve into the Manet painting “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” to get an intimate look at vintage Parisian night life while they savor the barmaid’s offerings of imported alcohol and mandarin oranges.
Woofbert’s vision is to build an expansive platform that allows a user to choose from a wide array of works.
Connecting Viewer With Artist, and Oracles
The Baltimore Museum of Art did not want downloading an app to be a barrier for its visitors, so it developed Go Mobile, a mobile website. Visitors spot the Go Mobile logo on object labels; plug the name of the artist, museum gallery or the work itself into the site’s search box on their smartphones; and then listen to interviews or commentary. For example, patrons wanting to learn more about an Ifa bowl from the Yoruba region of Nigeria can hear a Yoruba diviner’s explanation of the divination ritual.
In another technological innovation, soundscapes accompany six objects in “Imagining Home,” an exhibition exploring notions of home, place and identity. When you walk toward an embroidered Afghan prayer mat, for example, you might hear Afghan women singing traditional songs while they make the mats.
Lost in the Museum? Not Anymore
The British Museum brought augmented reality, virtual reality, coding and more when it opened the Samsung Digital Discovery Center in 2009. Exhibits are geared toward children and families, with activities such as a digital coding workshop in which participants use a BBC micro:bit and a mobile phone to code cultural symbols, from ancient hieroglyphs to modern-day emojis.
More recently, with the support of Korean Air, the museum reinvented its audio guide as a mobile app after soliciting feedback from visitors. It now offers 11 languages, including British Sign Language, enabling visitors to go on self-guided tours and hear commentary from curators and experts about recent research on important objects.
An interactive map tracks museumgoers’ locations to help those who get lost find their way out of the galleries. “It’s about a culture of understanding audience needs,” said Chris Michaels, the museum’s head of digital initiatives and publishing.
Instant Interaction With Art
A platform developed by Smartify, a London-based company founded in May, enables instant digital interaction with works of art. Upon scanning a work, the visitor gets its history, the artist, the creative process and other salient information.
“Most of us, if we visit an art gallery or museum and see a work of art we really like, we’ll take a photo of it or its label and save it for later to look up,” said Thanos Kokkiniotis, the company’s co-founder and chief executive. With Smartify, the user can save a work to a personal favorites collection.
In June, Smartify teamed up with “Sculpture in the City 2016,” London’s annual public exhibition of contemporary artwork around the financial district. Smartify’s first United States partner was the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, Calif., and the app came to New York this month for the three-day art exhibition “Exchange Rates,” in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Warhol: Out Loud
The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh comprise four distinct entities, one of which is the Andy Warhol Museum, dedicated to that artist’s work. About a year ago, the museums founded the Innovation Studio, a research, design and development laboratory headed by Jeffrey Inscho.
The studio’s first offering is The Warhol: Out Loud, an app for people with poor vision. The app determines where a person is within the Warhol Museum and integrates Apple VoiceOver technology to communicate what he or she is seeing through a smart audio player.
“It learns, based on your preferences, what kind of audio content you most enjoy — whether that’s a visual description of the object or painting, curator descriptions or stories about Andy Warhol creating the piece of work and what inspired it,” Mr. Inscho said. The code used to build the Warhol app is open-source, so any museum can download it and create its own app.