Apps allow users to view museums' holdings

| Friday, May 10, 2013, 8:15 p.m.

Sometimes making time to visit museums is difficult, but increasingly phone and tablet applications are allowing patrons to carry a world of art in their pockets and many even let people put their own spin on these masterpieces.

Many of the most famous museums in the world have apps that allow viewers to check out their collections or plan visits. For example:

• The Museum of Modern Art app includes an index of all works and artists featured in the collection as well as a database of art terms, and MoMA Tracks allows visitors to select their own music to listen to while exploring the museum or the app. A newly released MoMA Art Lab app is designed for children to create artworks using shapes, lines and colors.

• The Tate Museum in London has 16 apps, mostly free. They range from the educational, such as the Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, to the just-for-fun: the Muybridgizer allows you to create an Eadweard Muybridge-style animation using your iPhone camera.

• An updated Louvre Museum app released last year has more than 100 images from the collection.

• The American Museum of Natural History has several apps, including one devoted to its dinosaur collection and one that helps you navigate through the New York City site.

• The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia app shows 31 sculptures by Rodin with audio and visual information on the objects, the artist and the museum.

Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum has been at the forefront of this movement.

“As with our exhibitions and programs, our technology projects take a cue from the ethos of Andy,” says Joshua Jeffrey, manager of digital engagement for the Warhol. “He was always adopting and experimenting with new technologies in his art-making process, and we like to try and embrace the latest and greatest technology as well. Also, our demographic is particularly young for a museum (mid 20s to 40s), and they tend to be up-to-date with the latest iDevice. We like to talk to them on the platforms that they have and are comfortable using.”

The D.I.Y. POP app (99 cents to $1.99 for Apple and Android devices) is particularly fun — a chance to create an original “digital silk-screen print” by painting, exposing, cropping and pulling the virtual screen of a smartphone.

“We're hoping to shed more light on Warhol's process, while allowing the user to have a cool ‘souvenir,' ” Jeffrey says. “Our fantastic education department runs silk-screen workshops every day at the museum, and oftentimes they found that patrons were completely unaware of how the ‘pop art look' Warhol is famous for was made. Because of the proliferation of camera filters, Instagram, etc., most patrons thought it was just a ‘filter.' D.I.Y. POP de-mystifies Warhol's process and maybe even gives the user a whole new lens to look at Warhol's work.”

The museum recently partnered with Acclaro, a translation and localization agency, for a social media contest, “Pop Your Culture with the Warhol D.I.Y. POP App,” that asked contestants to transform an iconic picture of their culture into a Warhol-inspired digital screen print using the app. The winner, Massimo Strazzeri of Raleigh, N.C., represented traditional Italian lifestyle with an image of three elderly women on a bench.

The app was designed by Jeffrey, with help from students at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University. Most of the responses to D.I.Y. Pop have been positive, but he admits that some criticisms have taken him by surprise.

“It will never be as popular as Instagram because it's a rather involved process — it takes time,” Jeffrey says. “Most frustrating comments we get are related to ‘having to do work' to get the image. That's the point! We've received lots of praise from artists and educators, though — and we've even developed a pretty active fan base that submits work to us on social media daily.”

The Warhol Art app ($2.99 for smartphones; $3.99 for tablet-style devices) takes a more scholarly approach. With it, one can explore major parts of the museum's collections from anywhere. It's also meant to enhance museum experience. For instance, while looking at a specific artwork, you can call up in-depth information, find related works, listen to curators' insights, and sometimes even call up video of Andy working on that specific piece.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has a “responsive website,” optimized for easy smartphone usage, called Oh Snap!, created in conjunction with the exhibit “Oh Snap! Your Take on Our Photographs.”

“It was conceived as a way to get audiences interested in our photography collection,” says Jonathan Gaugler, media-relations manager for the museum. “(It's) also a way to blur the line between our physical gallery space and our presence online.”

Anyone who wants to “respond” to the exhibit's photos — ranging from the early 20th-century works of Jacques Henri Charles au Lartigue to mid-century Malian photographer Malick Sidibe — can do it through the site.

“In the gallery, there's a printer and an educator, and he or she will take submitted photos, print them and tack them in a constellation around the original. Anyone walking in can see the original work of art, and all the photographic responses. We've had about 1,300 submissions, including plenty of people who had never been in the gallery. Someone from Finland tweeted that they sent something.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

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