Navigating an exhibition at an art museum can be a joy — or it can be irritating.
The standard museum audio tour is intrusive and boring; who wants to lug around a pair of clumsy headphones and listen to anonymous curators droning away about the art on display? Who wants to fumble with controls, punch in location numbers … and finally give up? Isn’t there an app for this?
Yes, there is — if the exhibition in question is at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Using this free app, developed by local company KS Technologies, museum visitors with an iOS smartphone can call up video, multi-media and even plain old boring curators in the galleries without punching in location numbers.
The app does the work for you by sensing iBeacon devices installed throughout the museum, also manufactured by KS Technologies. Using ultra low-powered wireless hardware from Nordic Semiconductor, the app locates you precisely in the gallery and gives you as much (or as little) information as you want.
As we stood near the massive Dale Chihuly chandelier in an upstairs gallery, the app answered a question that I’d never thought to ask: How did they get that massive, fragile piece of art into the building? Thanks to a time-lapse video on the phone, I now know the answer — the hundreds of individual elements in the piece were assembled on-site.
While looking at a nearby painting, Richard Diebenkorn’s 1953 masterpiece Urbana #4, the app was equally helpful. The painting is an old friend, one that I’ve visited many times since it was acquired by the FAC decades ago. But until tipped off by the app, I never thought to walk slowly toward the painting and watch it change as I approached. It’s a big (66½ by 49½ inches), rich, vibrant work, with complex internal rhythms that aren’t apparent to a motionless onlooker.
The app is free from Apple’s App Store and is currently in use at a handful of art museums. The beacon signals are transmitted from small wall-mounted devices in each gallery. If you forgot your ear buds, the FAC will rent you headphones for an optional $2 contribution.
“This is the beta version,” explained FAC Communications Director Warren Epstein. “It’s only available now for the signature pieces in our collection, but it has amazing capabilities. It tracks visitor movements through the galleries so we know where people go and what they look at.”
“Potentially, this has implications for how we install future shows and even which pieces we keep on display and which go to our archives,” said Blake Milteer, FAC museum director and chief curator.
Given the ubiquity of mobile devices, it may be that museums soon will do away with printed information cards. Absent such visual clutter, curators will have much more freedom to hang and position paintings, making the gallery experience less didactic and more aesthetically pleasing.
“We’re tremendously excited about how the technology enhances the visitor’s experience,” said FAC President and CEO David Dahlin. “Art institutions like ours are finding that it’s not enough to hang art on the walls. In order to stay relevant, we need to make each visit a memorable experience. People today desire to interact and to have depth of context. This new app is amazing and will really change the way that people experience an exhibition and interact with the art.”
As for KS Technologies, the installation has obvious benefits.
“We’re so proud to partner with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in creating this new app and installing our beacons here,” said Bob Kressin, president of KS Technologies.
“We see beacons as a disruptive technology, having many practical applications such as navigating indoor spaces, tracking assets and creating experiences like we have here at the FAC.”