Cantor goes high-tech

Jan. 31, 2011, 2:33 a.m.

An art museum is not the first place most students go to find new uses for technology. However, Cantor Arts Center is implementing several new initiatives to augment and expand the museum experience, including Google mapping, gallery video displays and online visual catalogs.

“It’s about providing another way to get people to interact with the art,” said Oliver O’Donnell, Cantor outdoor sculpture technician, of the new technologies. “They’re ways of trying to get you to slow down and look at the art.”

Video screens mounted beside the typical museum gallery display plaques are meant to provide museumgoers with a more immersive experience into the background, process and history of the artwork.

“It’s just to create an opportunity for an interaction with the viewer, so that you’re not just going into the gallery and standing in front of the artwork and being ennobled by its presence,” O’Donnell said. “You’re interacting with it on some more involved level.”

Cantor administrative associate Kristen Olson, who headed up the video screen project, said that the museum installed video screens based on which pieces begged for additional information. The videos range in content from footage of artists such as Alice Neel in the process of painting the works on display to explanations of some newer pieces of art, including Bay Area-artist Richard Diebenkorn. According to Olson, this should help some viewers who might otherwise struggle to appreciate the art.

Cantor is also using Quick Response (QR) codes alongside its artwork to direct patrons’ smartphones to websites or videos that may supplement their museum experience. Olson said that QR codes are going to see much greater implementation in the near future.

QR codes incorporate the Web with the internal experience of the museum, but outside in the Rodin Sculpture Garden, Olson is taking things a step further. The outdoor collection can be viewed entirely on Google maps. The purpose of the mapping project is to provide a paperless alternative to the hard copy maps that the museum has available; however, it also allows access to photos of the sculpture collection from anywhere by hovering a mouse over a map location.

The next major project currently underway for the museum is an online catalog of the more than 20,000 works in Cantor. Cantor administrative services manager Susan Roberts-Manganelli described the initiative as an online, public view of the entire museum containing photos of each piece along with “tombstone information” like name, artist, medium and dates.

Photos are taken in a studio set up in the basement of Cantor. The entire collection will cycle through the studio over the course of the next three to four years. She said that Harvard and Princeton both have online collections and putting Stanford’s online was a natural step.

In addition to allowing access to Cantor’s collection from anywhere, photo libraries limit the amount of handling and wear on a piece of art.

“The idea is before you come here you can look it up online,” Roberts-Manganelli said. “You can find out what you want to see, what you want to know, where it is and you can come here and go directly to it.”

Olson said that the trend toward higher-tech has not pervaded most classical museums, but that many museums of contemporary art have embraced putting video and other supplemental material alongside their artwork.

“Because we’re a university museum, we have this comfort with trying different things and looking at how people learn,” Olson said. “We’re not going to be plugging everything into the wall, but there will be places to sit down and watch video and places to sit down and listen to music.”

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