University of California at Berkeley

An Art Gallery Tour of the Future

'Pocket Curators' Take Visitors Through the Art Museum's Galleries

 by Fernando Quintero

At the University Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, art and technology have joined together to make a visit to the museum a more meaningful experience.

Visitors to the UAM/PFA can now try an experimental hand-held computer guide to selected works in the collection galleries and get a personalized interactive audio and text tour of the museum.

With the "pocket curators," visitors can go through the galleries and with the touch of a button, get both audio and visual information on a particular work of art and the artist as well as a critique of the work. There's even a little background music thrown in for effect.

For example, at Paul Gauguin's 1889 "Still Life with Quimper Pitcher," visitors press number 17 and hear an overview about the post-Impressionist's work.

For more in-depth information, the user can call up biographical data, stylistic information on Gauguin and late 19th-century painting, a visual of the artist's signature, and a brief commentary by education curator Sherry Goodman.

During the testing period, the guides will be available at the UAM/PFA information desk to museum visitors at no extra charge.

"This pilot project is one of several important initiatives at the museum that are using new technologies to help make the museum's collections and exhibitions more accessible, educational and fun," said museum director Jacquelynn Baas.

Developed by Visible Interactive of San Francisco, the guides are Apple Newton Message Pads modified with the addition of a touch screen, back lighting, audio capability, headphones and a carrying case. The guide's unique audio and visual capability makes the device especially useful for visitors who are visually or hearing-impaired. In consultation with the UAM/PFA education department, Visible Interactive researched a score of collection works, interviewing curators, critics and artists to create the audio and written text for the guides.

There are currently 15 works from the permanent collection on the computer guide tour. In addition to Gauguin, information on other works include Peter Paul Rubens' 1532 "The Ascent to Cavalry" and Romare Bearden's 1941 "Cotton Pickers," featuring African-American spiritual background music. UAM/PFA information systems manager Rick Rinehart said Visible Interactive chose the campus museum as a pilot site because of the building's adequate lighting, "and because we are a university art museum, we are more inclined to get involved in a research project of this nature."

Rinehart said a decision on the guides' permanent use will likely be made by the end of the year.


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