Galleries in the digital age

category: Trends

sectors: Gallery

Technology is changing the way we experience and interact with art. As digital continues to rapidly change our way of life, galleries face the same struggles as other businesses to get involved or get left behind. Attendees of British museums have decreased over the past few years, despite people now opting to spend money on experience-based activities. Galleries need to up their game.

For most, visiting a gallery is to experience culture and get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Lots of people become frustrated when they go to an art gallery and are met with people not looking at the art through their eyes, but through their phone.

For this reason, there’s a misconception that technology and cultural institutions don’t go hand in hand. In fact, technology can enhance and enrich the visitor experience, from presentation to interaction.

Although there are people supporting the battle against mobile phones in gallery spaces (Artist Marina Abramovic banned phones from her 2014 Serpentine exhibition), it’s time for galleries and museums to embrace them as part of their structure. Technology has the power to extend the experience they offer, encouraging a younger audience to encounter cultural works differently. Real works of art can be extended into the virtual world and they can drive new forces of engagement.

Mr Hancock, the UK Secretary of State of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is part of the government’s push to encourage galleries and museums to consider the use of technology. He told the Telegraph, “Technology provides an opportunity to turn up the dial on audience engagement, enabling cultural organisations to engage more people and to reach out to new audiences.”

Championing technology rather than avoiding it can help emphasise the physical art that’s there. With things like virtual and video tours, audio and visual information guides and interactive AR experiences, technology can open the door to a plethora of engagement tactics that would otherwise be unavailable. Jane Alexander, chief information officer at the Cleveland Museum of Art says: “The best use of digital is not to make you aware of the technology, but to make you aware of the art.”

“The best use of digital is not to make you aware of the technology, but to make you aware of the art” – Jane Alexander, chief information officer at the Cleveland Museum of Art

At this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, all photographs are displayed on singular screens with backlighting. These screens bring the photographs to life, capturing colours, textures and quality of the images in a way that print would struggle to.

The main priority when you’re visiting an exhibition is that you have a good experience. Our perception of a ‘good experience’ is changing. To drive younger generations and keep up-to-date with other entertainment spaces, galleries and museums have to embrace modern technologies and use them to their advantage.

Galleries and artist around the world are embracing technologies to create new and exciting work. Detroit Institute of Arts developed an app using Google Tango, which provides visitors with a guided tour using AR as they walk through the museum. David Lerman, developer of DIA’s mobile application commented, “It’s a game changer for connecting people with their museum in a new and amazing way.”

“To drive younger generations and keep up-to-date with other entertainment spaces, galleries and museums have to embrace modern technologies and use them to their advantage”

But it’s filtering into the way art is made too. In Japan last summer, an art collective called ‘ultratechnologists’ launched their Digital Art Museum in Tokyo, which is completely filled with digital works. They commented, “Digital technology has allowed us to liberate art from the physical and transcend boundaries.”

As with everything, there is a line between supporters and cynics. Whereas some institutions have ‘Museum Selfie Day’, others have at least one mobile-free hour a day for people who come to galleries and expect it to be a safe space, void of (extensive) technology.

Jennifer Czajkowski from Detroit Museum of Art, commented “It’s another vehicle, another tool we can use to help visitors find a personal meaning in art.” With mobile phones being a part of day-to-day life, it makes sense that including them in exhibitions will make people feel more affiliated with the show and their experience there, whatever form this may take.

But it doesn’t always have to be big rollouts and complicated technology. Dallas Museum of art recently celebrated the museums greatest benefactor, Margret McDermott with an exhibition. ‘An Enduring Legacy’, aimed to showcase all 3,100 pieces McDermott had collected. With no extra-square footage, the museum turned to technology by implementing tablets and Bouncepads. This helped them showcase their overflowing archive and share expanded information to its visitors. You can see the full case study here.