1.2 Case Study: Cleveland Museum of Art's ArtLens Gallery (Migrated NLS Project Blog Post)


For my case study I’m looking at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s ArtLens Gallery system.  The system contains 4 interactive components: ArtLens Wall, ArtLens Studio, ArtLens Exhibition, and the user-downloadable ArtLens App.  All portions of the ArtLens Gallery interface draw from a centralized database of images containing large high-resolution images (photographed with cameras ranging between 48 and 192 megapixels) of all the works currently on display in the CMA.[1]

The ArtLens Wall is a 5 foot by 40 foot touchscreen wall.  According to the description on the CMA’s website, the wall, “is composed of 150 Christie MicroTiles and displays more than 23 million pixels, which is the equivalent of more than twenty-three 720p HDTVs. The Christie iKit multitouch system allows multiple users to interact with the wall, simultaneously opening as many as 20 separate interfaces across the ArtLens Wall to explore the collection.”[2]

Visitors can engage with art on the ArtLens Wall or engage via docking stations or Bluetooth from their own devices using the corresponding ArtLens App, which allows them to favorite artworks, or share their own curated groups of art to appear on the wall in a rotating queue.  Visitors can also arrange public digital tours through the museum for other visitors to follow on their personal or borrowed devices.

The ArtLens Exhibition features a rotating collection of 20 “masterworks,” and invites the viewer into conversation with them, “encouraging engagement on a personal, emotional level.”[3]  It is perhaps the most experimental portion of the interface, not using touchscreen, but using “gesture-sensing projections that respond seamlessly to body movement and facial recognition as you approach,”[4] in an attempt to fully immerse visitors in an interactive experience.

The ArtLens Studio is geared towards younger audiences, and allows visitors to digitally mimic the processes of creating physical artworks, as well as to comparatively cross-reference their own digital creations with pieces within the CMA’s collection (for example, based on shape).[5]

 

Critical Analysis

CMA have put a lot of money into this very experimental system, and according to the publicity and reviews, the reward seems to have been well worth the cost and risk.  CMA is not only currently being seen as a pioneer in the industry, with “staff from nearly every major museum in the world”[6] having visited for inspiration, but they are also looking at sharing a version of their software with other interested museums for the future,[7] a strategy which could earn CMA a lot of esteem and cement their place in the industry as the clear pioneer.

CMA have also made an interesting decision to house this advanced digital space within their physical institution, rather than investing in online digital options such as Google Arts & Culture which visitors could access from their own homes.[8] This decision ensures that the physical institution continues to benefit from the income and exposure that visitors bring, as well as taking advantage of processes generally restricted to web-based environments in the past.

The interface also encourages interaction between patrons, as well as with the artworks in the collection. “Jane Alexander, CMA's chief information officer who oversaw ARTLENS' technologies, talks about patrons who'd come as strangers and often end up laughing together and sharing control in the interactive games. ‘People are truly engaging together, of all ages, without knowing each other,’ she says, ‘and that's not what happens at museums.’”[9]  ArtLens Gallery seems to be disproving the commonly held idea that technology is isolating.

Finally, in regards to how this interface continues to feed into the museum, users are able to save their creations for other users to enjoy. The system also collects user data about what artworks visitors are favouriting and sharing on their own devices for the museum’s benefit.[10]

 

Inspiration and Relevancy to Our Exhibition

The element of the ArtLens Gallery which we attempted to incorporate most heavily in our own exhibition was interaction, and we got many pieces of positive feedback regarding our success in this in our visitor surveys.  We aimed to include as many and varied options for interaction as possible, including our Suffragette display, our Legal Deposit Library System station, our Google Arts and Culture slideshow, our Traquair Interactive display, and TweetStream, all of which are detailed further in blog entry 1.5.3.

Our Conversation Corner was also specifically designed to promote interaction and inclusivity.  We found that visitors tended to stay longer when they participated in our Conversation Corner, with many staying for upwards of 20 minutes engaged in conversation with our speakers.  This is a similar retention-by-engagement effect that the ArtLens appears to have on CMA visitors.

On another level we were able to take inspiration from CMA’s ambition. The ArtLens System is bigger and more complex than anyone had previously dared to attempt, and it’s success inspired us to strive to really push the limits of digital interaction, which in fairness, was part of our brief.

In closing, I think Elaine Gurian’s assertion that “museums need to welcome more, share more, and control less,”[11] sums up what is so inspirational about the ArtLens Gallery.  By inviting more of the public in with this attractive new system, asking them to interpret and curate their own versions of the collection, and allowing them to metaphorically run amok with their resources, the CMA is paving the way into the digital future.

 

Entry Wordcount: 983

Running Total Wordcount: 983


Image Credit: New York Times

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[1] Krause, N. “ArtLens Wall.” Cleveland Museum of Art, 9 Aug. 2019, www.clevelandart.org/artlens-gallery/artlens-wall.

[2] Kraus, 2019.

[3] DeBonis, J. “ARTLENS Gallery - About.” Cleveland Museum of Art, 30 July 2019, www.clevelandart.org/artlens-gallery/about.

[4] DeBonis, 2019.

[5] DeBonis, 2019.; Jancer, Matt. “The Cleveland Museum of Art Wants You To Play With Its Art.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 5 Feb. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/cleveland-museum-art-wants-you-to-play-with-its-art-180968007/.

[6] Jancer, 2019.

[7] Jancer, 2019.

[8] Bernstein, Fred A. “Technology That Serves to Enhance, Not Distract.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Mar. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/arts/artsspecial/at-cleveland-museum-of-art-the-ipad-enhances.html.

[9] Jancer, 2018.

[10] Krause, 2019.

[11] Gurian, Elaine Heumann. "Museum as Soup Kitchen." Curator: The Museum Journal 53, no. 1 (2010): 71-85. p. 83.

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Works Cited

Bernstein, Fred A. “Technology That Serves to Enhance, Not Distract.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Mar. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/arts/artsspecial/at-cleveland-museum-of-art-the-ipad-enhances.html.

DeBonis, J. “ARTLENS Gallery.” Cleveland Museum of Art, 30 May 2019, www.clevelandart.org/artlens-gallery.

Gurian, Elaine Heumann. "Museum as Soup Kitchen." Curator: The Museum Journal 53, no. 1 (2010): 71-85.

Jancer, Matt. “The Cleveland Museum of Art Wants You To Play With Its Art.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 5 Feb. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/cleveland-museum-art-wants-you-to-play-with-its-art-180968007/.

Krause, N. “ArtLens Wall.” Cleveland Museum of Art, 9 Aug. 2019, www.clevelandart.org/artlens-gallery/artlens-wall.

DeBonis, J. “ARTLENS Gallery - About.” Cleveland Museum of Art, 30 July 2019, www.clevelandart.org/artlens-gallery/about.

Moore, C. “ArtLens Studio.” Cleveland Museum of Art, 14 June 2019, www.clevelandart.org/artlens-gallery/artlens-studio.

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