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Technology’s Usefulness in the Museum by Claudia Einecke, Associate Curator, European Painting & Sculpture Department, LACMA

Posted By Claudia Einecke, Wednesday, June 06, 2012

To have or not to have computers in the galleries, that was the question when digital media were first making incursions into the museum environment in the 1980s. Unfortunately, when the answer was yes, too many times computers offered no more than additional pages of text. Clearly, we’ve come a long way since, and the session on Technology & Community Engagement proved just how much technological wizardry can contribute to the work we do and to our visitors’ experience of it. The most spectacular example came from the Birmingham Museum of Art where, for an exhibition of eye miniatures (portraits consisting only of the sitter’s eye), an iPad application was built that allows to study the tiny precious objects up-close and from various angles, as well as to access much additional information. As handsome as the gallery installation was — with rich wall colors, elegant display furniture, and dramatic lighting — the miniatures were undoubtedly better seen enlarged on the tablet.  At the same time, the virtual objects were dependent for their aesthetic effect on the physical presence of the miniatures themselves, on their aura, as it were, as historical and emotional statements.   

We may wish that every time we see an interactive digital feature in an exhibition, it is in such a felicitous marriage where the real and the virtual are equal partners and enhance each other’s power to create a memorable experience. 

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