Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Contemporary Art Titan’s (Almost) Secret Commune

Slide Show
Slide Show

The Work, and Communities, of Mark di Suvero

CreditAnne Leigniel, courtesy the artist and Spacetime C.C.
The sculptor Mark di Suvero’s New York studio occupies a complex of warehouses on an isolated stretch of the East River in Astoria, Queens. But the outward anonymity belies what’s inside: something like a bustling artists’ commune, over which di Suvero presides. There are large, live-in studios set aside for younger artists, and several glossy exhibition spaces display his work. (The legendary dealer Richard Bellamy, who gave di Suvero his first show and helped find the studio, which the artist purchased in 1980, ran a little-known gallery out of one of these rooms for close to 15 years.) There’s a touch of luxury outdoors — a small vineyard near the bank of the river — but it’s buffered by di Suvero’s brutal workroom, which functions as a kind of graveyard of unfinished sculptures, scattered among forklifts and laser cutters. In a common room, stacks of books stretch to the ceiling.
On a recent morning, two large dogs slept in a corner there, and a group of assistants sat around a large wooden table. Many of them had worked with di Suvero for years and had, at one point or another, lived in the warehouse or in one of his other studios. A small di Suvero sculpture — a sturdy mass of steel sitting atop a vertical chassis that looked like some immovable, upside-down anchor — was situated between them. Di Suvero entered the room wearing an orange hard hat and a dirty red work shirt, walking with two canes, the result of a construction accident that broke his back just before his first solo exhibition, at Bellamy’s famous Green Gallery, in 1960. Di Suvero uses a wheelchair more and more these days — he’s 83 — but he still does much of the work on his sculptures by hand. “It’s important to him,” one of the assistants said. “It’s his reason for getting up in the morning.”
Di Suvero is one of the last surviving Abstract Expressionists, and virtually the only artist from that era still making new work. (He’ll open a show at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York on Nov. 3.) His sculptures have been celebrated since the first Green Gallery show, but in his six-decade career, di Suvero has also given his time and resources to other artists, playing a quieter role as a political operator.
The studio in Queens has provided work space or housing for so many artists — including Ursula von Rydingsvard and Heidi Fasnacht — that di Suvero has lost count. He built it out of a crumbling pier on a section of the East River called Hell Gate, and for years after he moved in, the surrounding neighborhood lived up to this name. The artist described a stretch of road where Astoria Boulevard comes to an end as a popular spot for carjackers, who would hide behind the tall bushes at the intersection, embracing the element of surprise. When people in the neighborhood complained about the situation, di Suvero said, the city’s solution was to trim the bushes.
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Di Suvero had a different response. He hired residents from the Smith Houses in Manhattan, as well as the nearby Astoria Houses project — he still refers to them as “my kids” — to help him build out his studio and the surrounding land, which had primarily been used as an illegal dumping ground. (“Rat Park,” as he used to call it.) He transformed it into the city’s first outdoor sculpture park, Socrates. Over the last 30 years, over 1,000 artists have exhibited there — and it has broadened the acceptance of public art in the city. The work was touch and go for a while. Di Suvero was mugged at his door one night by someone who had been working to help clean up the park during the day. “I knew the guy — not only his name, but his Social Security number,” di Suvero said. He was on the artist’s payroll. “And he’d been paid, like, $65 the night before, but he needed money right then.” (Di Suvero’s Great Dane helped ward off the attack.)
Bellamy opened his gallery, called Oil & Steel, in the studio in 1985. Di Suvero gave him the space for free: “There was no question of him paying rent,” he said. “He discovered the place.” Bellamy, whom di Suvero described as “a brother,” showed work mostly by his friends, like Richard Nonas and Walter de Maria. He also had the ceiling painted a sickly blue color, an embellishment that still stands. The gallery remained something of a secret. “Nobody would come here,” di Suvero said. “It looked like a dump. They didn’t want to come in.” It was certainly an odd location for a gallery championing the avant-garde. There weren’t many collectors who made the trek to Queens (“he was a terrible dealer,” di Suvero said of Bellamy, because “he didn’t care about money”), but there were other visitors. One day, a local kid stole Bellamy’s computer — again, the perpetrator was known around the studio — and the dealer had to send an employee out into the neighborhood to buy it back.
The Queens complex is only the most current example of di Suvero’s utopian, collaborative vision. In 1962, he co-founded Park Place, one of the first artists’ cooperative galleries in New York, which became a model for the SoHo gallery district later in the decade. (The artist-dealers never sold much work, but they did start a short-lived and possibly doomed jazz band, in which di Suvero played the steel drum.) And in the 1970s, he began installing his sculpture in public areas long before this was a common or even desired practice. Di Suvero’s old studio on Front Street, above the former Fulton Fish Market, was a meeting ground, and occasional residence, for artists like Linda Fleming, and Danny Lyon used the space as inspiration for his photography book, “The Destruction of Lower Manhattan.” And di Suvero would later turn a converted barge in Chalon-sur-Saone into another quasi-commune called “La Vie des Formes,” giving artists from all over the world a place to live and work.
The Astoria Houses project is still standing, but the neighborhood surrounding di Suvero has been transformed, in no small part because of the artist’s presence. Around Socrates, there are now luxury apartment towers. “And they advertise that one of the reasons they can rent them out,” di Suvero pointed out with an exasperated smile, “is because of Socrates Sculpture Park.”
This social element to di Suvero’s work isn’t so much accidental as unconscious. He doesn’t publicize it, and it has made him difficult to categorize: You couldn’t quite make the argument that John Chamberlain, a di Suvero contemporary, was a community builder. When asked if he identified with the label most commonly applied to him — Abstract Expressionist — di Suvero cringed: “Oh, God. No.” He tapped a corner of the sculpture at the center of the table in the common room with his hand. It started to spin silently around its base, not nearly as rigid as it had seemed at first glance, and di Suvero laughed: “I’m a corrupted constructivist.”

“Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection,”

Matisse’s “Red Room (Harmony in Red)” in the exhibition “Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection,” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Credit 2016 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
PARIS — The history of collecting, the development of painterly style, the changing fortunes of individuals and nations: You will think about all these things on your second go-through of “Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection,” which opened last week at the Fondation Louis Vuitton here.
Your first visit will probably elicit another, less intellectual reaction: dumbstruck awe.
This titanic exhibition assembles 127 works of French painting — by Monet, van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso and many more artists on the Modernist hit parade — that belonged to the Russian textile magnate Sergei Shchukin (1854–1936).
He acquired them in a concentrated buying spree of just 15 years, and displayed his collection in a palace in Moscow — capped by “Dance” and “Music,” the monumental panels that stand among Matisse’s boldest works. By 1918, though, Lenin was in the Kremlin, Shchukin had gone into exile, and the collection was nationalized and dispersed; some works ended up in Siberia. The group’s partial reassembly here amounts to the blockbuster of blockbusters, and a welcome coda features works by Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko and other artists whose study of Shchukin’s French pictures was decisive for the development of the Russian avant-garde.
“Icons of Modern Art” has been curated by Anne Baldassari, the former director of the Musée Picasso. Beyond its historical consequence, “Icons” is also a monster exercise in cultural diplomacy and legal wrangling, and one that has not gone wholly according to plan. The principal holders of Shchukin’s paintings — the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, in Moscow, and the State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg — have been loath to collaborate in the past, and previous loans to institutions in Western Europe have occasioned restitution claims from Shchukin’s heirs. (“We are the victims of the holdup of the century,” one of his grandsons told The New York Times last month.)
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It’s taken some serious glad-handing, and the intervention of two national governments, to reconvene works last seen together before the Russian Revolution. The cost of presenting so many inestimable paintings outside Russia is undisclosed but astronomical. Insurance and shipping alone would be beyond the reach of Paris’s public museums; it fell to Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France and the president of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, to foot the bill.
The capstone was meant to be an inaugural visit from Vladimir V. Putin, alongside his French counterpart, François Hollande. (Mr. Putin was also to dedicate an ostentatious new Russian Orthodox cathedral, hard by the Eiffel Tower, which Parisian wags have nicknamed “St. Vladimir’s.”) But this month, after Russia vetoed a French-drafted resolution at the United Nations Security Council that sought to end the bombing of Aleppo, Syria, Mr. Hollande characterized the Russian-backed strikes as “war crimes.” A few days later, Mr. Putin’s visit was called off, though both presidents have written introductions for this show’s cinder block of a catalog.
Over more than a dozen uncluttered galleries on four floors, Ms. Baldassari plots Shchukin’s acquisitions as Europe tips into war, though she ruptures the timeline with some thematic presentations, like a gallery of portraits and self-portraits that opens the show. Cézanne broods. Gauguin flashes his teeth. Amid them are two portraits of Shchukin, done by the lesser-known Norwegian expressionist Xan Krohn, that translate him into blocky zones of color. In the full-length portrait, he appears in a gray morning coat, hands clasped before his waist; he stoops, he appears shy. The bold background of orange and white rhombuses only hints at his avant-garde sensibilities.
Indeed, Shchukin’s first purchases were creditable but benign, including a whiff of Romanticism: a lakeside enchanted castle by the Scottish painter James Paterson. Landscape, though, an early passion, led him to Claude Monet. He acquired a preparatory version of Monet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” of 1866 — the uptight, unfinished cousin of Manet’s painting of the same title, in which a dozen Parisians practice the new bourgeois art of doing nothing. (Where Manet’s women got naked, Monet’s clung to their petticoats.) “Luncheon on the Grass” foreshadows a clutch of major Impressionist Monets, including an 1886 portrayal of the Normandy coast as a milky field of periwinkle squiggles, and one of the finest of his London impressions, done in 1904, featuring the Houses of Parliament festooned with calligraphic sea gulls.
In many cases he bought, despite his reservations — and would waver in the face of his own uncertain taste. After “Dance” and “Music” netted Matisse terrible reviews at the 1910 Salon d’Automne, Shchukin backed out of acquiring them; then, via telegram, he changed his mind again and renewed his purchase. (After they arrived in Moscow, he wrote to Matisse, “I hope to come to like them one day.”) He was plotting out, first for himself, and later for the Russian public, how form would become paramount in Modern painting, and how illusionism would give way to a new artistic autonomy. It was a didactic approach, at odds with our stereotypes of private collectors as pleasure seekers or investors.
All of Shchukin’s purchases were meant for display at the Trubetskoy Palace, where he lived and which he opened to artists, students and the Russian intelligentsia by 1908. Large graphics outside the galleries here evoke the original presentation; in the dining room, for example, more than a dozen paintings by Gauguin were jammed against one another on a single wall. The 11 Gauguins here — above all, “Aha Oé Feii? (What, Are You Jealous?),” a double portrait of languorous Tahitian women from the summer of 1892 — constitute a high point of this show, though many of them discomfited Shchukin, who was skeptical of nudes. He acquired them anyway. “If a picture gives you a psychological shock,” he said, “buy it. It’s a good one.”
Sometimes that rule was too hard to obey. Shchukin passed on Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” whose ghoulish prostitutes were too shocking even for him, though he would soon fill the Trubetskoy Palace with more than 50 of that artist’s works. “Three Women,” a tamer counterpart to the “Demoiselles,” from 1908, was bought from the siblings Gertrude and Leo Stein. Several cunning works of synthetic Cubism, such as a still life with a bottle of Pernod from 1912, have been paired here with later, purely abstract works by the Russian avant-garde, like Lyubov Popova’s architectonic layerings of colored panes.
More than Picasso, though, it was Matisse for whom Shchukin’s patronage would prove decisive. Down and out in Paris, Matisse found in this Russian patron much more than a reliable buyer; thanks to his textile business, Shchukin sympathized with Matisse’s deepening interest in decorative arts, and stood by him as he moved into a phase of piercing color. The 22 works by Matisse here are, on their own, a reason to visit this exhibition, though neither “Dance” nor “Music” was able to travel here. Their absence is made even worse by this show’s one major miscalculation: a cheesy video feature, from the filmmakers Peter Greenaway and Saskia Boddeke, featuring a mustachioed Shchukin speaking Russian-accented French alongside writhing dancers imitating Matisse’s boogieing nudes.
Don’t waste a second watching it, not when you could be upstairs with “Red Room (Harmony in Red),” the 1908 thunderclap that began Matisse’s great post-Fauvist period. You may think you know it from a thousand dorm room posters, but no reproduction can capture the depth of the vermilion wallpaper streaking down right onto the table —or the sufficiency of color alone to negate the old rules of representation.
When Shchukin commissioned it for his dining room, the one with the wall of Gauguins, its title was to be “Harmony in Blue.” Matisse delivered a work in a different color, but Shchukin didn’t mind. Personal taste, he knew, was a flimsy ground on which to build a collection; better to trust the artists.
“Icons of Modern Art” is on view through Feb. 20 at the Fondation Louis Vuitton;
A version of this review appears in print on October 29, 2016, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Picassos, Matisses, Monets, Oh, My!.

In the Art World, Globalism’s New Spin

When the American economy bottomed out in the early 1990s, the contemporary-art market fell apart, and some gate-crashing occurred. Artists who were once denied entry, many of them nonwhite, came in. So did new kinds of art, much of it with roots outside Western traditions. An expansive new age of globalist art had begun, and it felt excitingly utopian. By forging links among far-flung people and cultures, art could do what politics could not: bring everyone to a communal table for share-the-wealth feasts, with museums serving as hosts.
In the years since — with all the museum news about architectural expansion, technological enhancement and audience attraction — globalism as an ideal, in the 1990s sense, faded somewhat from view. The proliferation of international biennials and triennials dulled its edge. The concept had become shopworn from use as a marketing tool. And when globalism became confused with economic globalization, political questions arose: To what extent does sharing dilute difference? Who’s in charge of building that communal table? Who decides the seating?
Recently, globalism, as global consciousness, has come back into focus, at least for me, thanks to American politics: to the spreading plague of racially based violence, and to a presidential candidate who preaches — promises — a future of barrier-building and ethnic expulsion. It feels like the right time to reassert global consciousness in art, not just as a practical reality, but as a positive idea. And, as it turns out, even some of our large and conservative New York museums, in not always obvious ways, have been thinking this, too.
If, in the early 1990s, your knowledge of art in the city was confined to what you regularly found in Manhattan’s flagship institutions, you might never have known that something called global contemporary art existed. It was readily apparent if you looked elsewhere, to small, ethnically specific institutions like the Americas Society, Asia Society, El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in Harlem. It was at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Queens Museum, institutions notably responsive to their culturally diverse communities. But the big museums were slow to respond to the era’s globalist impulse. And the bigger they were, the slower they were.
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its encyclopedic holdings, is the most intrinsically globalist of all. Yet nowhere has contemporary art been given less notice or looked less at home. Recently, this has begun to change, as the Met adjusts itself to the reality that in museums everywhere, contemporary art is an overwhelmingly popular audience draw, not to mention an area of interest to a high percentage of collector-trustees and other benefactors.
An installation by Walid Raad at the Museum of Modern Art, called “Section 88: Views From Outer to Inner Compartments_ACT XXXI.” Credit Agaton Strom for The New York Times
For a while now, the Met has been integrating contemporary purchases into its collection displays. And, given the cultural span that collection covers, it’s no surprise to find non-Western work among the arrivals. A splendid 2014 fabric piece by the Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté now hangs in the African galleries. A surreal 2011 sculpture by Kohei Nawa, made from the crystal-encrusted body of a deer, has become a popular fixture of the Japanese wing.
But by far the most significant sign of a big push in a contemporary global direction came last spring in one of the two exhibitions chosen to inaugurate the Met’s tenancy in the Breuer building, once home to the Whitney Museum of American Art and now generally assumed to be the platform on which the Met will stake a claim to contemporary relevance.
Sheena Wagstaff, chairwoman of the department of Modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
The larger of the two shows, the blockbusterish “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible,” was classic Met fare, a lineup of work from van Eyck to Warhol, geared to highlighting the museum’s masterpiece muscle and scholarly skills. The smaller show, a retrospective of the artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-90), was something quite different, a bright globalist shot in the dark.
Mohamedi was born into a Muslim family in Lahore, Pakistan; traveled internationally; and created a highly personal body of linear abstract work, mostly drawing. Some writers have compared it to the art of Agnes Martin or various American Minimalists; others have viewed it through the lens of Sufism and Zen Buddhism. Although Mohamedi’s profile in Asia is high, she has scant recognition value in New York. And unfamiliarity, coupled with low-key, concentration-demanding work, led to the exhibition’s being largely passed over by the news media and, you suspect, by the public.
An untitled work by Nasreen Mohamedi at the Met Breuer. Credit Agaton Strom for The New York Times
Visually, it was a gorgeous show, tenderly installed by its curator, Sheena Wagstaff, chairwoman of the Met’s Modern and contemporary department. Historically, it was a crucial addition to the ever-expanding study of Modernism as an international phenomenon. And it may prove to be an indicator of a wide-reaching approach that the Met will take to contemporary collecting. It was, if nothing else, a daring gesture on the Met’s part to put its weight behind the art of a little-known, non-Western Muslim female artist at a spotlighted moment in its history.
I had no reason to expect, 25 years ago, that the Met would someday show contemporary non-Western work in a big way. I did expect that the Museum of Modern Art would, and should, though there has been a long wait. Now and again in the past, MoMA turned its attention in a non-Euro-American direction, with a dutiful Latin American survey in 1993, and with the notorious “‘Primitivism’ in 20th-Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern” in 1984. Mostly, though, it stuck with re-tweaking the narrow version of Modernism it fabricated in the 1930s.
A page from Nasreen Mohamedi’s diary, at the Met Breuer. Credit Agaton Strom for The New York Times
Within the past few years, changes have arrived in a scattering of substantial marquee retrospectives (of Armando Reverón, Lygia Clark, Walid Raad, Cao Fei) on West 53rd Street and at MoMA P.S. 1 in Long Island City, Queens. But the most institution-altering globalist action has taken place largely backstage, through the Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives program, or C-MAP.
Founded in 2009 as an offshoot of the museum’s venerable and still vital International Program, the Perspectives program enlists staff curators in 11 MoMA departments in research projects focused on art historical subjects outside North America and Western Europe. A lot of the activity is in the form of talks, seminars and so on, but the program has also resulted in two important exhibitions, “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde,” in 2012, and last season’s “Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960-1980.”
A photograph by Nasreen Mohamedi, at the Met Breuer. Credit Agaton Strom for The New York Times
For both, the in-house organizers drew on seemingly esoteric material that had languished in MoMA’s vast storage, as if awaiting a context that would make it make sense. Maybe even more important, the curators did on-the-ground research in the geographic areas under study, talking to artists, some now elderly, and examining fragile archives that had been untapped for years. Similar projects related to China and India are in the works. (A very recent large gift of Latin American art to the museum, accompanied by the establishment of the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Research Institute for the Study of Art from Latin America, will, of course, radically enhance further work in the area.)
Much is made of digital developments in the museum world, but when it comes to art and historical artifacts, as any curator will tell you, there’s no substitute for being there. The thrill of discovery was palpable in both shows. (The curators were still abuzz with excitement when I spoke with them.) And “Transmissions,” in particular, projected a view of art as an instrument of ethical inquiry and political dedication, a perspective too rarely encountered in the market-fixated New York art world.
An artist’s rendering of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Credit Gehry Partners
The Guggenheim Museum has its own program, the UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, with a goal not just to research new art but also to buy it. Set up in 2006, the initiative, funded by the Swiss-based financial service company UBS, began successive art-shopping sprees in three broad geographic areas: South and Southeast Asia; Latin America; and the Middle East and North Africa. Three curators, hired on two-year contracts and working individually, made the acquisitions and organized group shows of their purchases.
Some good work has come into the collection through the initiative, though the whole endeavor feels somewhat arbitrary and scattershot, an exercise in instant globalism. The curators were assigned enormously broad swaths of cultural turf. If you judge their efforts by the Western market-vetted buys, they confined their searches to art fairs and biennials. The museum has announced no plans to continue the collecting once they’ve departed, contributing to a hint of opportunism around the project.
Maybe the museum feels that there’s no need (or cash) for more than this short-term effort, particularly given the extensive buying that’s been undertaken to fill the still-unbuilt Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. That franchise, part of the Saadiyat Cultural District, which also includes a branch of the Louvre, has been advertised as a virtual monument to cultural globalism, showcasing “parallel bursts of creativity from around the world,” in the words of Richard Armstrong, the director of the Guggenheim. But the superluxury setting has led to the project’s being prejudged as an emblem of globalization rather than of global consciousness-raising.
New or expanded architecture, increased digital access and social media outreach are, at bottom, about promotion. They pull audiences into a museum and can provide potent teaching tools. But global consciousness is what museums teach, or should teach: the simultaneous existence of many different cultures, and the equal value of those cultures, everywhere, through the centuries, and right now. It’s a lesson that stands in exact opposition to the pall of intolerance in the air at present. In the end, art is small, pebble-size, not globe-size, and it can’t do much. But if it can persuade people to gather for a meal instead of for war, that’s something. And museums can play a part in that persuasion.
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Technology Invites a Deep Dive Into Art

Technology Invites a Deep Dive Into Art

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.

A virtual reality experience of Dalí’s 1935 painting “Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s ‘Angelus.’” CreditGoodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco/Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Fla.

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.

Google’s Art Camera, which produces images with more than one billion pixels. CreditGoogle

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.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Overheard app. CreditMinneapolis Institute of Art

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.

The actors Kumail Nanjiani, left, and Martin Starr. CreditGeoff Captain Studios

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.

A cardboard headset that can be used with Bosch VR. CreditBDH

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.

A WoofbertVR view of Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.” CreditWoofbert

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.

An exhibit in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s “Imagining Home” show. CreditMitro Hood

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.

With the Smartify app, information about a piece of art pops up on a phone’s screen, with an option to become part of the user’s collection of favorites.

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.

The New York Times