moca museum

October 27, 2014
Blog 01


Excerpts from an article published in the New York Times October 23, 2014.

For the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a turning point came in 2011. Down went the signs imploring visitors to stow their cellphones. The Met revamped its website, tailoring it for viewing on smartphone screens. The museum was not only allowing visitors to use their mobile phones while browsing the artworks, but encouraging it.

The digital experience was embraced and meant to enhance the physical experience of exploring the museum. The trend has only accelerated since, at the Met and across the museum world. At first glance, it might seem like a capitulation, giving in to the virtual enemy when museums are so essentially physical spaces.

Yet listen to museum curators and administrators today and they often sound like executives in media, retailing, consumer goods and other industries. They talk of displaying their wares on "multiple platforms," and the importance of a social media strategy and a "digital first" mind-set.

"You want the way people live their lives to happen in the museum," said Carrie Rebora Barratt, the Met's deputy director for collections and administration.

Museums are being redefined for a digital age. The transformation, museum officials say, promises to touch every aspect of what museums do, from how art and objects are presented and experienced to what is defined as art.

The pragmatic need to appeal to modern audiences, who expect to be surrounded by technology, is one engine of change. But museum officials insist there is a powerful aesthetic and cultural rationale as well. It is the increasing recognition that, as Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, puts it, "We live not in the digital, not in the physical, but in the kind of minestrone that our mind makes of the two."

Museums, Ms. Antonelli insists, have an important role to play in helping people explore and understand the emerging hybrid culture. "It's this strange moment of change," she explained. "And digital space is increasingly another space we live in."

The museum of the future will come in evolutionary steps. But some steps are already being taken. Digital technologies being deployed or developed include: augmented reality, a sort of smart assistant software that delivers supplemental information or images related to an artwork to a smartphone; high-definition projections of an artwork, a landscape or night sky that offer an immersive experience; and 3-D measurement and printing technology that lets people reproduce, hold and feel an accurate replica of an object.

In December, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will reopen, offering its vision of a 21st-century design museum. The three-year, $91 million renovation will give the Fifth Avenue museum 60 percent more gallery space and new visitor experiences.

Upon entry, each visitor will get a black pen, equipped with a small amount of computer memory, a tiny radio for short-range communication and a touch-sensitive stylus, which can be used to write and draw on large interactive tables with touch-screen surfaces. The digital pen is one ingredient in the redesign of the museum that is intended to "give visitors explicit permission to play and to explore the process of designing for themselves," said Sebastian Chan, director of digital and emerging media at Cooper Hewitt.

One place they will be able to do that is in an "immersion room." In the room, a person can, for example, tap the pen on one of many selections from the museum's wallpaper design collection. That wallpaper is then projected clearly throughout the room. "You can see and experience historic wallpapers in ways you never could before," Mr. Chan said.

A visitor can also draw his or her own wallpaper design on an interactive table. As the person is drawing, clever software can detect common images, retrieve relevant information and communicate, in its way, with the visitor. "It looks like you're drawing a flower," it intones, and then links to a short audio recording by an expert on flower motifs in wallpaper over the years.

In another area, visitors can use their pens to annotate the designs of common objects, "a shopping cart, for example" with features of their imagining. One shopping cart might be designed for a family of four, while another is for a wheelchair-bound shopper. "It's a visual suggestion box to make things better," Mr. Chan said.

At the Smithsonian Institution, 3-D technology is increasingly used for conservation, research and public education programs. The fine-grained scanning allows a depth of data collection and analysis that was not possible before. The gunboat Philadelphia, built in 1776, is the last surviving cannon-bearing American vessel from the Revolutionary War. The historic boat has been 3-D-scanned so online viewers can see it from angles not possible in person at the National Museum of American History in Washington. But it is also scanned regularly so conservators can get early warnings of deterioration of the old wooden structure.

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington has two life masks of Abraham Lincoln. The masks "made from plaster casts placed on Lincoln's face" were made in 1860, the year he was elected to his first term, and in 1865, two months before he was assassinated. The Smithsonian staff has 3-D-scanned the life masks, and the data is available for downloading and printing on a standard 3-D printer. Schools across America have done just that.

"You can see the toll the Civil War took on this man, those decisions of life and death," said GŁnter Waibel, director of the digitization program at the Smithsonian. "With your finger, you can trace the deep furrows on Lincoln's face. It sends shivers down your spine."

Across the Smithsonian's 19 museums, 3-D projects are still relatively few. But Mr. Waibel predicts they will proliferate in number and reach. "It"s incredible technology that will revolutionize not only how people experience objects," he said, "but how we do research and science inside the museums." The abundant 3-D data, according to Mr. Waibel, could one day become the information building blocks for creating rich 3-D experiences. He says, "Perhaps holograms can be programmed according to a person's interests."

In the museum world, augmented reality can mean any technology that gives visitors additional information, from audio tours to websites. The Met's new application for Apple mobile devices, introduced in September, is a good example of a well-designed smartphone app, with lists of current exhibits and daily events, as well as artworks recommended for serious museumgoers and for families with children.

But as technology advances, so do the ambitions for augmented reality. Colleen Stockmann, assistant curator for special projects at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, and Jean-Baptiste Boin, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford and an expert in computer vision, are working on taking augmented reality a step further. Their research project, Art++, combines image-recognition technology and computer graphics with art history expertise. Art++ is supported by a grant from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a partnership between the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford's School of Engineering.

With their software, a person would walk into a museum, turn his or her smartphone or tablet toward a photograph, painting or sculpture, and the artwork is surrounded with a digital halo of supplemental information. The Cantor center, Ms. Stockmann said, exhibited the Stanford University Libraries' collection of landscape photographs of California and the Northwest by the 19th-century photographer Carleton Watkins. Capture the image of a Watkins' photo of Yosemite Valley, she said, and you can tap on an icon that shows a map of where Watkins walked in the valley to take his photographs.

Focus the smartphone's camera viewfinder on a painting, and software might show the initial drawings underneath a painting, and earlier versions of the painting with colors changing as the artist progressed, Ms. Stockmann noted. Capture the image of a mummy in a museum, and the software might show an image of the skeleton beneath. The literature, poetry and music of the time an artist was working, and short commentaries by curators, could be presented as audio clips.

The goal of such technology, Ms. Stockmann said, is to "give you more points of access into the artwork, so that it keeps you in the moment of looking, almost as if someone is guiding you through the painting or sculpture."


All this is wonderful. I applaud. Digital technology on this order is breath-taking. But where's the artist and where's the art" When is the last time that you heard of a major museum sponsoring a digital exhibit" I suggest that museums rather put their money into the art that is being created daily by thousands of digital artists around the world who focus their talent less onto bits and bytes than onto real art. It's bad enough that digital art gets a bad name because it is drawn in whole or in part in the bowels of the computer. But let's not let the technology cripple it forever.


Charline Lancel writes:
Thank you for spreading the digital art and emphasizing the artists of the digital technology. We would really need people like you here in Europe because the mentalities are really "has-been". No consideration for my digital painting. People think that I am not an artist but a technician, that it is not me who created but my computer, that what I'm doing it is too easy and that everybody can make it. I have to share your blog on my blog. I wish you a good day.

See five of Charline's images bottom of page.

Bruce Thacker writes:
I think you are my muse. Every time I hear from you I am inspired. Congratulations on the new blog, I wish you great success in everything you do. The following is a rant that I recently wrote. You may use in the entirety, in part or not at all--as you wish. I will send images of some of my artwork and would be delighted to be published on your blog.
Digital art, like traditional art, lies on a broad spectrum from very bad art to very good art. This is not surprising. But perhaps art produced digitally has a further burden. The technology that is so useful to the artist, also easily facilitates the off-hand, frivolous and accidental image that is then easily presented on the internet as art. The internet allows anyone to define what they do as art The truth is there is no place to see art produced digitally that has been juried by artists or art professionals. The websites that show such images are not selective. Google Images is not selective. Any internet search is not selective. Such lack of selectivity creates a "dumbing down" or reduction to the lowest common denominator of the whole range of work presented on the internet. But, the internet is the only place to see what is being done in digital art since the galleries, for the most part, don't show digital. This will change, but at this stage of its evolution, a search for good digital art is a dismal endeavor. One can spend hours looking at childish cartoons, science fiction nonsense, sexual daydreams and gibberish. But suddenly, like a breath of fresh air on a hot day, one is rewarded by someone doing great things using the computer to make art. Someone who, in Robert Henry's words is an "inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature". To paraphrase Ansel Adam's comments on making great photographs: Those who aspire to doing great digital art, as with any art, should know their computer programs well; but most importantly they should study art. Study traditional art, its history, movement and ideas. We cannot know where we are going until we know where we have been; and as with any great endeavor, art is built on the shoulders of every artist who came before.

Eric Wayne writes:
I read your article, and, yeah, there doesn't appear to be many venues for artists who make digital images to show and possibly sell their work. I shows a couple physical pieces in a gallery that I created as an undergrad, over 20 years ago. However, I don't even imagine showing my digital work in a gallery. In addition to there not being one-of-a-kind originals that can go up in value because of "scarcity", people dismiss digital art out of hand because it is done using a computer. Painters that I admire and have promoted on Deviant Art have no interest in my art whatsoever, because they see it as somehow different, even if I used to make paintings.

Art by Bruce Thacker
Rainbows and Sugar Icing on a Summer's Day


Let's hear it for the blog


To assure credit to you as artist, include your name in the image title


Digital Art Gallery Online
Digital gallery of best pictures and photos from portfolios of digital artists.

Digital Art Served
Top work in categories such as computer graphics, matte painting, digital painting and photo manipulation.

Soho Arthouse (Soho Gallery For Digital Art)
Event space, gallery, tech, film screening room, product launches, pop-up, fashion week, charity art shows in NYC.

DAM - Digital Art Museum
Museum and gallery

Los Angeles Center for Digital Art
The Los Angeles Center for Digital Art is a contemporary gallery in downtown LA dedicated to the propagation of all forms of digital art, new media, digital video.

Community of artists and those devoted to art. Digital art, skin art, themes, wallpaper art, traditional art, photography, poetry / prose. Art prints.

Almost entirely 3D rendered art from such programs as 3DS Max, Maya, Lightwave and others.

Museum of Computer Art
Nonprofit US educational corporation chartered by the NYS Department of Education.


JD Jarvis's Collector's Guide to Digital Art
Art developed using a different set of creative tools


High in the Catskill Mountains of New York State is Don's barn. Here's where I live with my wife and where the offices of the Museum of Computer Art and Don Archer's blog is located. I converted this house from an old barn over a period of four years a long time ago. Inside, the original beams are exposed. In a later blog I'll try to provide a photo or two of the interior.

Art from MOCA's Open or Guest gallery archive. Click titles to view full-size

Pauline Black

Sergey Bychkov
All-Seeing Eye


Art by Erino Chericoni




Ancient and Modern

Art by Vladanovic







More Art by Bruce Thacker
"Abstract art is not about how the artist sees the world
but about how he feels about his world. So, one should
not ask: "what is it?" but like a piece of music should enjoy
the line, forms, colors and open themselves to the emotions
of the artist."

Bouncing off the Walls

Everything Old is New Again


Spin Cycle

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