Author Archives: Yutong Zhang

Exploring the Affordance of AR Technology in Art Museums By Analyzing Three Cases in Different Museums

Yutong Zhang


AR, which refers to the augmented reality, is a technology that can layer virtual content over reality. In recent years, AR has become an artistic choice for art museums. This paper briefly introduces AR and its relations with museums and the interpretation of artworks. By analyzing three AR projects in different museums (Invasive Species in The Pérez Art Museum Miami, ReBlink in The Art Gallery of Ontario, Hacking the Heist in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), AR’s affordance in art museums is discussed. In the end, this paper also discusses the limitations of AR and possible problems for other art museums to implement AR in art exhibitions.


Mobile devices are omnipresent in modern society. Realized mobile phones and social media can help exemplify the influence of art and museums, museums, for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gradually stopped entreating their visitors not to use their cellphones (Gilbert, 2016) After accepting visitors’ using mobile phones, museums started to think of a way of taking advantages of mobile devices as media, hoping to provide visitors with more information on the exhibitions and improves the traditional museum visiting experience. On the other hand, there is also a trend of digitalization among modern artists. Digitalization of art does not limit in using photoshop as a painting technique. Using different media and interacting with various technologies, digital artworks are transdisciplinary (Adams, Arisona & Gibson, 2008).

In such a background, augmented reality has come to the eyes of curators and artists. Usually, a museum may be sponsored by a foundation and then start an AR project. By collaborating with artists and technical teams, the museum can eventually launch the AR exhibition. The most commonly used way of applying AR technology in museums is to let visitors download an app specifically applicable to the exhibition on their mobile devices. Leveraging cameras, scanning technology, GPS and other technologies, AR tools augment the reality, add different layers of information, and strengthen the interaction in museums.

In the perspective of creating meaning and interpretation, AR technology also plays an important role. Because the applications of AR tools in different art museums are different, the analysis on how AR technology specifies the meaning of the artworks also cannot be generalized.

This paper picked out three AR projects in different museums:  Invasive Species The Pérez Art Museum Miami, ReBlink in The Art Gallery of Ontario, Hacking the Heist in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Based on specific forms and purposes of digital artworks, I analyze how AR tools as an art media are applied properly and successfully in three exhibitions.

Literature Review

  • What is AR

According to the definition given by Encyclopedia Britannnica (2013), augmented is “a process of combining or ‘augmenting’ video or photographic displays by overlaying the images with useful computer-generated data.” People usually are confused about the difference between AR and VR. AR, which refers to Augmented Reality, just as its name, can “augment” the reality with perceptual information generated from digital data, while VR (Virtual Reality) creates artificial environments to replace the reality with virtual views. Because AR technology provides different layers of information based on the real components in our physical world, it can alter people’s perception of the real world and simultaneously provides people with an immersive experience.

AR technology is a blackbox, in which there are more blackboxes of other technologies. In the book “Understanding Augmented Reality” (Craig, 2017), the author explains that all AR systems consist of at least three hardware components: sensor, processor, and display. Those are the most basic components and indispensable for the augmented reality system. Each of the components can take different forms but have similar functions. The sensor provides information for the system. The information provided usually is one of the followings: location, orientation, lightness or darkness, etc. The processor is like the brain of the system, in charge of receiving signals from the sensor, execute the instructions from the programming and then creates signals to drive the display. The display provides a signal for our sense. The most commonly used are visual displays, but there are also audio displays, haptic displays, and other sensory displays.

The popularity of AR technology in recent years probably benefitted from Pokémon Go, which is an augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic and swept the world since 2016. However, AR is not a new-born technology. It was invented in the early 1990s. The commercial use of AR was mostly focused on the entertainment and game businesses. People are also increasingly aware of AR’s potential for applications in various scenes.

  • AR and Museums

Ding (2017) concluded in her article that the global trends of museums in recent years are digitally “mediated personalization” and “personalized learning”. Trendwatch (2015) released a report in 2015, showing that at that time museums have already thought of proper ways to take advantage of wearable devices. The hand-held audio guide has become a mainstream way of providing with extra information on the exhibitions for visitors. To enhance the interaction experience in museums, curators were thinking of utilizing AR technology in a portable way. Usually through mobile apps developed by museums, visitors who hold mobile phones or tablets are able to have a more immersive and innovative experience by using AR technology.

The advantages of implementing AR in museum visiting experience have been praised by many experts. Most of the opinions are from the perspective of diverse information and interaction. AR tools make it possible that surrounding spaces in the museums become endless layers of information through the screen of mobile devices (Ding, 2017). Besides, AR tools can contribute to more engagement in museums because of its creative feature. Enabling visitors to explore the displayed artworks by themselves through AR apps actually arouses people’s interest and strengthens the interaction between the museum and its visitors. The use of AR can also enrich the experience in museums visiting because it is useful for stimulating the other possible works in progress comparing them with the artworks (Nofal, 2013). What’s more, AR could also bring exhibitions to life, make the figures or animals in the artworks move and provide visitors with a new perspective of interpretation.

  • AR and Interpretation of Artworks

Museum visitors include both native and experienced viewers. They may have different types of appreciation of artworks, but, the common interpretation of artworks is usually the extension of everyday perception and is limited by one’s own knowledge construction (Cupchik &Gebotys, 1988), As Bartlett (1932) also mentioned, the effort after meaning in ordinary perception is as an “urge to perceive something in terms of a wider background of past experience (p.192).” The trained and experienced visitors have a wider scope of knowledge on art interpretation methods before coming to the exhibition, thus, they may have more qualitative art museum visiting experiences than naive visitors. In this aspect, providing additional and accessible information to enlarge the scope of naive visitors’ knowledge of the artworks’ background in the museum is a possible way of enhancing their appreciation experience in museums.

As early as in 2012, according to the 2012 Mobile in Museum Study, 1% museums in the United States have started with AR and introduce mobile devices into museum visiting experience (Ding, 2017), because museums have noticed that AR can provide hybrid layers of information and images, which can be used to provide visitors with more background knowledge and improve their level of appreciation or artworks.

On the other hand, an artwork as a meaning system reflects its artist’s thoughts and intentions. An artist’s thoughts and intentions are after all influenced by the social context. One of the factors in the complicated social context is technology. The development of technology brings more advanced and innovative techniques for artists.  In the process of meaning creation of an artwork, the specific techniques, also influence its meaning. Choosing AR tools as a specific technique may contribute to creating the intended meaning in artworks and further influence the visitors’ interpretation of them.

Case Studies

  • Invasive Species in The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)

The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) coordinated with Felice Grodin, the local-based artist in 2017 and held an AR exhibition named “Invasive Species”. This exhibition includes four site-specific digital works that virtually interact with the architecture and outdoor spaces in PAMM. In order to see the artworks, visitors have to download PAMM app in iOS devices. Though the screen of iOS devices, people can see the digital artworks interact with the physical background in the museums.

A Video Guide: PAMM AR – Felice Grodin: Invasive Species

Terrafish, 2017-18. Felice Grodin. Photo by Christian Bonet, Image courtesy of Pérez Art Museum Miami Retrieved from

The main concept of this digital artwork, according to Felice Grodin, is to evoke people’s awareness of the fragility of our ecosystem (The Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2017). One of the artworks, Terrafish (2017-2018), like a woven net of bright pink neon lights with pulsating stalks reaching up, is aimed to indicate the invasive jellyfish found in South Florida waters. Terrafish is virtually spread over the floor at the entrance of the museum. The digital pulsating stalks reach up towards the cell of the museum, interacting with the 45-foot-long hanging gardens designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc in collaboration with the architects of PAMM, Herzog &de Meuron, which gives people the feeling that the unknown creatures are foraging and devastate the plants. The stalks are 49 feet tall and the pink base is about 100 feet wide (Mortice, 2018).

Felice Grodin: Invasive Species Courtesy the artist Retrieved from

Another piece of the digital artworks has a three-dimensional creepy shape in a purple-blue-like color, standing on the terrace of the museum. It has many tentacles and legs. When visitors touch the screen, they can see the tentacles and legs of this unknown creature twitch as if it is crawling. It is also huge with similar size of a van (Mortice, 2018).

In the promotional video (Cuseum, 2017) released by PAMM, visitors were led by guides, holding iPad, excited about exploring the virtually existed invasive species. They continuously compare the physical background in reality with the virtual scene seen through the screen and marveled at the innovative way of digitalization of artworks. They also take photos of the invisible artworks through PAMM app.

The AR tools enable more possibilities for open space in a museum.  In this case, the open space in PAMM is apparently better utilized with AR artworks virtually overlapped with the physical museum background. Benefited from the AR artworks, the open space in PAMM has a better way of interacting with its visitors than just being a part of the architecture and being a resting place for visitors. With Grodin’s Invasive Species “hidden” in that open space in PAMM, visitors slow down their steps and carefully explore the open space that was neglected by them in the past. By virtually exhibiting digital artworks, the original museum space has been developed and gained more depth regarding the ability to exhibit artworks and strengthen the interaction between the museum and its visitors.

AR technology used in art museum may influence the interpretation of artworks in both positive and negative ways. On the one hand, AR tools provide visitors with a new context for interpretation. Because the AR-based digital artworks Invasive Species can only be seen through the screen of iOS devices, visitors in PAMM have to change from seeing the exhibition directly in front of their face to relying on handheld devices. The screen, as an interface of small size, limits the view. Thus, the screen also becomes a frame of the artworks, while the size of the screen may decide how large the digital artwork is perceived and how many details visitors can appreciate.  In this way, AR tools influence people’s interpretation of artworks in a negative way. However, Though the interface (screen), a new context is created. In addition to visual satisfaction, visitors can also have an immersive experience in virility and reality. In this case, if visitors hold iOS devices and move toward different directions, they may feel that they are embraced by the neon pink, honeycomb-like net of Terrafish. The artwork Terrafish itself becomes a context for visitors as a precondition of immersive experience. The innovative way of experiencing artworks in a context that is virtually constructed by the artwork itself can help visitors have a different perspective for the interpretation.

PAMM collaborated with Knight Foundation, which provided a grant, was planning an AR project. Grodin was interested in that project and after discussing with the curators from PAMM, she started to develop the AR project from her earlier drawings. AR technology also takes part in the process of creating the meaning of Grodin’s Invasive Species. She believes that drawings can “migrate between analog and digital” (Pérez Art Museum Miami, 2018). With the digitalization of her earlier painting by using AR technology, her new artworks now engage very actively with the architecture and respond strongly to the changing ecological environment in Miami. Grodin indicates that her new work is now not only “grow” from two-dimensional to three-dimensional but also in real-time. Those changes are perfectly in accordance with her purpose of showing the possible future due to the ecological change through the artworks. In this way, AR has been considered not only a technology but also an art medium, through which the meaning of the artworks can be better expressed by artists.

  • ReBlink in The Art Gallery of Ontario

From July 6, 2017 to April 8, 2018, there was a special exhibition, Reblink, in The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  It was worked by a digital artist, Alex Mayhew, who reimage historical artworks based on AR installation. After downloading the custom app Reblink onto personal mobile devices, people have to authorize the app to use the camera and then scan the historical artworks from the AGO’s Canadian and European Collections. The painting’s subjects come alive on the screen in a way of “reflecting on our daily reality in the 21st century.” (Art Gallery of Ontario, 2017). ReBlink’s highlight is that it vividly indicates the contrast between history and 21st-century life. By using AR, figures and subjects in the historical paintings are able to be transported across the limitation of historical context and presented in a modern way. The exhibition itself is benefited from the new technology, and meanwhile, it also reflects on social changes due to the development of technology.

Painting, oil on canvas, 118.2 x 319.8 cm Retrieved from

Drawing Lots, George Agnew Reid Painting, oil on canvas, 118.2 x 319.8 cm Retrieved from


For example, in the original painting Drawing Lots by George Agnew Reid, there are three figures closely sitting or lying on the stomach, whose head closely bending over their game (Impossible Things, 2017). In Mayhew’s reimagined version, those three figures are all absorbed in their phone’s screen and separately sitting with each other. The implication is obvious:  the distance between each individual is further than it is in the past, and face-to-face communication among people is harder due to the popularity of mobile devices.

Marchesa Casati, Augustus John Retrieved from:

Mayhew’s Marchesa Casati Retrieved from

For another example, Mayhew also reimaged the portrait Marchesa Casati originally painted by Augustus John in 1919. This portrait depicts the flamboyant Marchesa with her fiery red fiery hair contrasted with a muted background of mountains. Marchesa in the portrait is looking toward the possible visitors of the painting with smiling eyes. However, in Mayhew’s version, Marchesa is holding up a selfie stick, smiling at the camera, and immersed herself in posing and taking selfies. She no longer has eye contact with the possible visitors, because she is now looking at the camera of her mobile phone. Mayhew’s version again implies that the development of technology has changed our behaviors. With cameras embedded in mobile phones, taking selfies becomes more and more popular. One’s portrait is no longer drew by a painter, or taken by a photographer but taken by himself or herself.

This is also the case that AR technology participates in creating meaning for the artworks. When Mayhew was asked about his inspiration and purpose of reimaging the historic masterpieces from a modern perspective, he mentioned that using AR tools is aimed to get people “to look up, rather than look down” (Coates, 2018). Many technologies become a type of distraction for people. As a result of the fast development of many technologies, people consume information faster than they did in the past, including art pieces. But he wants to encourage people to slow down their steps and explore more about the artworks in the museums.

By using AR technology, Mayhew is also trying to turn technology into a way to help people more engaged instead of distracting. Making a contrast of the historic paintings with the scene in modern society also encourages people’s own reflection on the encroachment of technology in the 21st century. In this aspect, AR technology as the carrier of his digital artworks becomes one of the many layers of meaning and intentions of his artworks. The feedback from the museum visitors does show that the exhibition realized by AR technology arouses their interests and inspires them to take a closer look at the original paintings. According to Shiralee Hudson Hill, the Interpretive Planner in AGO, around 84% of the visitors to the exhibition ReBlink reported feeling more engaged with the art (Impossible Things, 2017).


  • Hacking the Heist in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

One of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum paintings stolen in 1990, Rembrandt van Rijn’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, returned to its frame through the magic of augmented reality. Photo courtesy of the Cuseum. Retrieved from:

Hacking the Heist is an AR project aiming to digitally place the stolen art masterpieces back, in order to provide people with the opportunity of viewing those special art pieces and also to inspire people to think about the intersection of art, media, and technology (Cuseum, 2018).On March 18, 1990, thieves stole thirteen masterpieces in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum at one time, whose total worth was more than $500 million, which makes this art heist one of the most notorious ones in history. Those paintings, including paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, and Degas, have never been returned back. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum hangs gilt frames of stolen masterpieces in the same place as before. Now, leveraging the Hacking the Heist app, visitors are able to view the stolen works on the walls through the screen.

From the perspective of the museum’s function, the AR technology reinforces the museums’ role of preservation, which is one of the initial functions of the museum (Buren, 1985). A historic painting is like a freeze-frame of the past. The value of a historic painting is eternal when it is well preserved. People just think habitually that museum is the place for preservation, but forget the possibility of damages on artworks due to improper ways of maintaining and the possibility of theft and loss. Who could imagine or even think of the possibility that such a huge heist happened to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? Fortunately, benefited from the development of technology and the innovative use of AR, the stolen paintings can return to the walls in a different way. The digital restoration of those stolen masterpieces has more than just original historical values. The visual content is layered over the real world and makes a contrast with the empty frames in reality. Thus, visitors can be more aware of the loss in art fields and realize the preciousness of the world’s culture.

This experiment was conducted by a group of Bostonians who love art. Their choosing AR to bring back stolen artworks is an important process of endowing meaning in this project, while the digital form of restoration inspires visitors to interpret the artworks and this AR project in different perspectives. In this case, AR technology enables more visitors to learn about the biggest heist in the world that happens to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, to appreciate the stolen masterpieces again, to realize the preservation function of the museum and the preciousness of art and to think about how art and technology intersect. This is also the intention of the group of art-loving Bostonians to have this AR project in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.


Possible Problems of Implementing AR in Art Museums

With the development of technology, art and art museums have both adapted to the new conditions. The rise of interactive and digital art and the widely and commonly use of handheld audio guides among art museums proves the simultaneous development and intersection of technology and art. Although AR has been increasingly popular among art museums and artists in recent years, it cannot be denied that there are also some limitations or disadvantages of applying it. Art Museums may also face some obstacles when implementing AR in exhibitions.

First, art museum may have financial problems. To launch an AR project in art museums actually costs a large amount of money. Some of the museums are founded by the special foundation, for example, Knight Foundation, which funds technology innovation for art-making and engagement, but most of the museums are not as lucky. The financial problem is the most realistic problem many art museums face. Also, to implement new innovative technology is an issue of the overall business and operational structure. It is also related to the infrastructure in the museum. A museum should decide whether to develop its own AR app or use some existing one considering their financial conditions. Also, a museum that is determined to embark with AR, its infrastructure should also be improved, for example, free and stable WiFi for the AR app in the whole museum.

Second, AR technology as an emerging technology may cause the challenge for collection in the future (Trendwatch, 2015). We cannot anticipate the technological progress in the future so it might be possible that the artworks we are now excited experiencing with mobile devices are not viewable in the future because of iteration or retirement of one technology involved in AR tools. Similar things have already happened. Take cassette tape for example: only after decades its popularity, it is now hard to find a proper player for an old cassette tape.  Art museums that consider implementing AR for permanent or temporary collections must take the risk of technological iteration.

What’s more, researchers and experts are still working on some fundamental problems in the process of designing AR. Tracking limitations may cause registration problems. How artists deal with the possible scene and depth distortions and visibility issues also remain questionable. (Kruijff, Swan & Feiner, 2010). If the digital artworks presented by AR have the issue of scene and depth distortions or visibility issues, the imprecise augmentation will apparently negatively influence visitors’ visiting experience and their interpretation of the artworks.


The analysis of three AR projects in the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum shows that AR can afford

From the perspective of visitors, AR can arouse their interest and also inspire them to explore more details of the artworks. Visitors’ interpretation of artworks can be enhanced through such an innovative and inspiring way. From the perspective of artists, AR can help them to realize their specific intention of creating the artworks. When artists actively choose AR tools as the form to present their artworks, it means that AR as an art medium also participates in the process of meaning creation. For art museums, AR tools can make more use of museum spaces inside and outside of the museums and help artworks interact actively with the architecture. Also, using AR to restore historic stolen artworks help to maintain and reinforce the museum’s function of preservation. Since different AR project has different themes and different techniques and settings, AR’s affordance listed above cannot be generalized to all art museums and exhibitions.

In spite of the affordance, AR’s application also faces some problems. Some basic problems are fundamental technical problems. If AR is implemented in the art exhibition, museums should consider the financial and infrastructural ability, while artists should make sure that AR’s technical defects do not negatively influence visitors’ interpretation of the artworks.



Augmented Reality. (2013), In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from:

Adams, R., Arisona, S., & Gibson, S. (2008). Transdisciplinary digital art: sound : vision and the new screen : digital art weeks and interactive futures 2006/2007, Zurich, Switzerland and Victoria, BC, Canada, selected papers . Berlin: Springer.

Battlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Buren, D. (1984). Function of the Museum. In R. Hertz (Ed.), Theories of Contemporary Art (2nd ed., pp.189-192). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Craig, A. (2013). Understanding Augmented Reality (1st edition). Morgan Kaufmann.

Coates, C. (2018). How Museums are using Augmented Reality. [website post]. Retrieved from

Cuseum. [Screen name]. (2017). PAMM AR – Felice Grodin: Invasive Species [Video file]. Retrieved from

Cuseum (2018). Hacking The Heist. [website]. Retrieved from

Cupchik, G., & Gebotys, R. (1988). The Search for Meaning in Art: Interpretive Styles and Judgments of Quality. Visual Arts Research, 14(2), 38-50. Retrieved from

Ding, M. (2017). Augmented Reality in Museums. In B. Crawford. & E. Kane (Eds.), The Augmented Museum: Essays on Opportunity and Uses of Augmented Reality in Museums (pp1-17). Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University: ETC Press.

Impossible Things. [Screen name]. (2017). ReBlink Teaser. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Impossible Things. (2017). ReBlink. Art, Augmented Reality. [Website Post]. Retrieved from

Gilbert, S. (2016). Please turn on your phone in the museum: cultural institutions learn to love selfies and social media.(TECHNOLOGY). The Atlantic, 318(3), 32–33.

Kruijff, E., Swan, J. E., & Feiner, S. (2010). Perceptual issues in augmented reality revisited. 2010 IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality, 3–12.

The Art Gallery of Ontario. (2017). REBLINK. [website post]. Retrieved from

The Pérez Art Museum Miami. (2017). Felice Grodin: Invasive Species. Augmented Reality (AR) Exhibition. [website post]. Retrieved from

The Pérez Art Museum Miami.  [Screen name]. (2018). In the Studio with Felice Grodin [Video file]. Retrieved from

Trendwatch. (2015, May 1). Wearable Tech: when “bring your own device” means shirt and shoes. [Wesite post]. Retrieved from:

Mortice, Z. (2018, Apr 12). The Invasive Species Exhibit Wriggles Into the Art World Using Augmented Reality. [website post]. Retrieved from

Nofal, E. (2013). Taking Advantages of Augmented Reality Technology in Museum Visiting Experience, 6th International Congress “Science and Technology for the Safeguard of Cultural Heritage in the Mediterranean Basin”, Athens, Greece, Volume: III. Retrieved from:

Trendwatch. (2015, May 1). Wearable Tech: when “bring your own device” means shirt and shoes. [Wesite post]. Retrieved from:


From thoughts on Google Art Project to my final project

After talking to you about my final paper topic, I started to think about when a specific technology is used in the museum or mixed with other media and technologies in the art history, how the way people interpret an artwork changes due to the technology’s affordance. Technology as a blackbox, is also interacted with other technologies and become a certain level of interface, through which people may interpret the artworks in a new context. Take Google Art Project as an example, like Procter mentions in the article, the gigapixel scanning is used for Google Art Project and makes it possible for people to engage with artworks in an intimate way and may see the details that can not be seen in the museum because of the place where the artwork is hung. Also, people use digital devices to avoid crowds and any other physical fatigue.

However, to use gigapixel scanning technology to mimic the interior spaces of different museums on a widespread scale also has its drawbacks and limitations. Scholars query what kind of understanding and interpretation people may have in the new context. Museum as a physical place for exhibiting artworks has its own institutional function, thus endows the exhibition many other meanings that are not included by the artists in their original artworks. Does digitalization process of a museum try to reflect the meanings that were given by the true physical museum or does it want to differentiate its function with physical museums?

Also, the Google Art Project also face many difficulties. The gigapixel capture technology itself costs a lot and high reproduction fee of some modern artworks is also an unavoidable issue. How much progress the medialization of museums, or, in other words, technologically representation of museums will have, and how similar projects or other technologies can be better used for people’s interpretation process remains to be uncertain.

Based on the mentioned thoughts, I decided to divide my final paper in the following structure:

  1. Raise the common interpretation question, for example, how do people interpret an artifact in a context.
  2. What’s the affordance of AR technology. How the AR technology can better specify the meaning of artwork and help people’s interpretation process from a certain perspective.
  • Introducing AR’s history or deblackboxing
  • Current application of the AR technology- (how many museums are using AR, what kind of artworks is using it, is it temporary or forever, tracing any database? )- use different museums as examples.
  • how can AR technology can be better used for different interfaces for the interpretation of artworks – suggestions for different museum cases (Art history, label, context)
  • Reality:What are the problems for the application AR technology in museum facing, what are the drawbacks?
  1. Conclusion and suggestions.


Kim Beil, “Seeing Syntax: Google Art Project and the Twenty-First-Century Period Eye.” Afterimage 40, no. 4 (February 1, 2013): 22–27.

Nancy Proctor, “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2, 2011.

AR + cyclorama ?

Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge impressed me a lot because of its special way of reproduction of the original. When I first read the introduction of his artwork on the Hirshhorn Museum’s website, I had no idea of what does it mean by “cutting, tearing, and scraping through the layers”. I am now totally impressed by his innovative way after experiencing his work on site. I choose to use “experience” instead of “see” because each canvas section of his artwork is so huge, more than 45-feet long, that gave me an immersive feeling. Standing close to the canvas, I was strongly attracted by the different layers and textures lurking beneath the surface and couldn’t help exploring more about the details. Visually there are not only many layers hidden beneath the surface, but also horizontal layers built by ropes on the surface. When I stand a little far away to see the whole picture of the canvas, I felt like standing in front of a brick wall that has survived the history and has been standing there for many years witnessing the historical change.

Artworks curated in the museums are usually framed by different media, sometimes by the space, sometimes by its form. Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge is an example. Bradford installed his artwork in the specific round room in Hirshhorn Museum because the original artwork was a cyclorama painting. Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge will be exhibited in the Hirshhorn Museum until 2021, but how does the artwork’s fate after 2021 is not clear. Bradford produced his artwork in such a unique way, it is not possible to be totally duplicated and installed again in another museum (cutting, tearing, and scraping all have randomness). Also, whether there is another place that will perfectly present the reproduction of a cyclorama painting remains unknown.

However, Bolter, Engberg, and MacIntyre’s article about Augmented Technology used in the media area hints me on the possible way of installing Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge in other museums. If AR technology can be used as a part of the curation and exhibition, visitors can use mobile devices to experience Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge as they were right in the Hirshhorn Museum. Thus, visitors can virtually see Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge in its original context. As for the physical experience, I would suggest exhibiting small parts of the original artworks in those other museums, so that visitors could also explore and experience the details when they use the AR technology to virtually immersed in Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge. This is a way of using a new medium to get rid of the limitation of other media.



Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre. “Media Studies, Mobile Augmented Reality, and Interaction Design.” Interactions 20, no. 1 (January 2013): 36–45.

Hirshhorn Exhibition:

Three Photos, Three Topics

  1. Photo and the specific social context

This black-and-white photo was taken on August 14th, 1945. It was photographed by Alfred Eisensataedt and was taken with a Leica Illa.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – AUGUST 14: A jubilant American sailor clutching a white-uniformed nurse in a back-bending, passionate kiss as he vents his joy while thousands jam Times Square to celebrate the long awaited-victory over Japan. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

When I firstly look at the photo, it seems that a couple is sweetly kissing at the Times Square. However, actually, they didn’t know each other before. It was simply a coincidence that this couple-like posture was captured. The man in the photo is a jubilant American sailor and the woman is a nurse. The sailor “clutched the nurse in an in a back-bending, passionate kiss as he vents his joy while thousands jam Times Square to celebrate the long awaited-victory over Japan.” To see the sailor’s action from a different age, he might get into big trouble: he must be accused of sexual assault by people who are determined to fight for women’s equality. But his rudeness was forgiven by the surrounding pedestrians or even the whole country, because of the specific historical context—V-J Day. People love to see such a scene and Edith Shain, who claimed to be the nurse in the photo was invited to be at the 2008 Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C. It to some degree proves that photos are framed by their uses and reception.

Edith Shain at the 2008 Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C.

2. Photo’s function of recording  history

This was taken on the morning of November 10, 1989, recording the exciting moment that the first section Berlin Wall is pushed down by the hands of crowds of determined people.

BERLIN, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 1989: The first section of the Berlin Wall is pushed down by the hands of crowds of determined people on the morning of November 10, 1989. (Photo by Tom Stoddart/Reportage by Getty Images)

Photos have deep roots in recording and witnessing historical events. Digitalization makes old important photos more likely to be disseminated. Just type “BERLIN” in, you will get many similar photos that show how people celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Each photo of the Berlin Wall appearing in the research result have meaning in relation to other images. Those photos together are trying to renovate the atmosphere of that time. For people who didn’t experience the exact period of history time, the digital version of old photos stored in internet platform could be regarded as the interface, through which they can have more sense of how the real history was like.

3. Photo in the digital era

I took this photo by using iPhone 6s. The man in the photo is an American young singer named Greyson Chance.

Greyson Chance at DC9 NightClub By Yutong Zhang

His live show in DC9 Nightclub in Washington, D.C. was the starting point of his new album tour. I took this photo standing right before the stage when he was singing. After the live show, I uploaded a series of his live show photos and videos on Weibo. Surprisingly within less a day, I got over 1000 notifications saying that my photos or videos were re-twitted or commented or liked by other strange Users. The development of digital camera gives rise to paparazzi and fan culture. Initially, media provides a range of perfect platforms for photos to be noticed. But nowadays photos are now being using to attracting audiences for media. Even though photos are actually the repetition of daily life, they provide audiences with more visual shock than bucks of characters or letters. Familiar with the feature of photographs, some fans are aware of the opportunity of earning money by shooting famous stars. They followed their idols everywhere, took photos, edit them by using software, and finally printing them as photobooks in secret and sell to other fans. This behavior actually violates stars’ individual portrait right but is always connived in the fan culture.


Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Photography and the Optical Image”

Alan Buckingham, Photography. New York: DK, 2004. Excerpts.

“V-J Day in Times Square”

American Sailor Kisses White-Uniformed Nurse on V-J Day – Alfred Eisenstaedt

Fall Of The Wall Revisited – Tom Stoddart

Quest on Time and Space in Art

From observing the positions of celestial objects to improve calendars to trying to revealing the possible law of time and space in the universe, the human has never stopped exploring the philosophy of time and space from various different fields. In the art realm, no matter the linear perspective in Renaissance or the flatness of abstract expressionism, artists also devoted themselves into the exploration of a proper way to represent space under certain conditions and within certain timeframes.

When we look at time and space in the Modern period, the impressionism firstly stands out because of its feature of using colors to capture natural lights and shadows. Impressionists didn’t blend color smoothly, leaving the obvious tracks of strokes. They were rejected by the Académie’s Salon but eventually had their own Salon (Salon des Refusés). They focused no more on the historical events but preferred to depict temporary life and natural landscapes. Instead of focusing on details, they were better at capturing the momentary effects of lights to creating an overall visual effect. Monet’s series of paintings usually depict different lights on the same object at different times of a day or year. Especially his painting series of the West Façade of the Rouen Cathedral shows how the change of time conditions would exert an impact on the given space. A revolution of painting techniques has been ignited by impressionists, meanwhile, the topic time and space has been renovated.


Rouen Cathedral (Monet series)  There are more ( )

Instead of leaving an obvious track of strokes on the canvas like Impressionism, Surrealists depicts scenes with more elaborated photographic precision. However, different from Realists, Surrealists never just depict a normal scenario or still life from daily life: they are obsessed with illogical scenes and desire to emphasize the strong contradiction between the dream and reality. Those features of surrealism are no exception of the social context: the cruel reality due to the first and second World War created the unnerving atmosphere, which was contradictory to people’s longing for peace.

Source: Wikipedia.

The Persistence of Memory (

A very famous piece of surrealism is Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Hanging a soft melting clock on the tree and laying watches on the beach, Dali used “the exactitude of realist painting techniques” to depict a strange dream-like scene that can happen in reality. Although Dali said The Persistence of Memory is not inspired by Einstein’s theory of relativity, four clocks with blurry shapes might still hint at the perception of time in surrealism. Whether time has a specific shape, how would time look like if it were projected on a two-dimensional surface, in what conditions will time and space be warped when looking at the melting clocks, people will have such questions bursting out. Different from Monet’s artwork, Dali’s painting skills in The Persistence of Memory are not used to capture the natural light in order to reflect the fleeting time. Instead, his “exactitude of realist painting techniques” are used to represent the blurriness of boundary in the dream and the hollowness and loneliness in mind, following the quest on the time and space.

Monet and Dali are artists of different genres that are born in different time and space, but they both have explored the time and space in some of their artworks. Although different genres of art have different features and there might be seemingly gap and deviation between different genres, time and space have been the universal concern. The frame or the suit of time and space will still be the topic of many artworks, literature or scientific researches in different time and space in the future.


Art History Education Videos “Impressionism: Overview”

Charles Baudelaire, “The Salon of 1859: The Modern Public and Photography” and ” The Painter of Modern Life” (pp.19-27).

Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,”

Wikipedia “Surrealism”

Wikipedia “Rouen Cathedral (Monet series)

Wikipedia “The Persistence of Memory”

Intertextuality/intermediality in specific cases

Q: When we interpret an artwork or literature and deconstruct its meta-levels of meanings from the unlimited semiosis perspective, how could we make sure that we don’t overinterpret it given the limited preferred message embedded by the painter or the author?

Q: Combining Hall’s Encoding and Decoding theory, does the semiosis contribute shift of power from media to audiences since audiences are able to interpret the message sent by media in unlimited ways and the generate more meanings based on the single message?

It is very fascinating to see that people from different areas use similar ways to endow various meaning to different things. In the literature area, different layers of meanings and interpretations also exist. I was requested to read a German novel Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren written by Wolf Haas when I was an undergraduate student. The professor also talked about a similar concept: die Intertextualität. This is a novel that has different levels of plots and is famous for its complexity of narrative technique. The whole book is a dialog between “der Erzähler Wolf Hass” and “die Literaturkritikerin” about his new, actually fictive fiction with the title Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren. Thus, Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren is the title of this real novel, also the title of the fictive novel mentioned in this real novel. It also denotes the weather of the day when the story exactly happens 15 years ago in the fictive novel. The author also embeds intertextual references to other works by himself in the interview, which in turn make a connection between fictional and real author and blur the boundary between the novel and the reality. Such recursive progress of encoding meaning is creative, leaving readers to discover the unlimited interpretation embedded in one phrase.



In the realm of art, metapainting stands for the outcome of such generativity and recursion. What is depicted in a piece of metapainting is greatly based on the abundance of greatest paintings in history. The genre of metapainting directly supports that previous artworks can, in some way, generate more paintings and add value to the following paintings. In the course of metapainting production, artists add their personal preference and thought into the painting, while the social context also embeds social norms in the painting. One artwork could, on the one hand, generates unlimited more meanings embedded in other artworks, and, on the other hand, be interpreted into infinite meanings because of the existence of previous artworks.

See adjacent text.


Image result for gallery of louvre

 Mona Lisa in Morse’s Painting  (source:

Instead of taking an artwork as a whole, to look at it from a more fragmented perspective, people must be again surprised at its meta-levels of meanings. Each object depicted in a painting could be simultaneously regarded as an icon, index or symbol. Morse may be only aware of the symbolic function of the Mona Lisa when he chose to paint it in his painting, but many more levels of meanings and representations could be deconstructed. For example, the Mona Lisa depicted on the wall of Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre could be first seen as an icon, because people will recognize the likeness between the authentic artwork and the imitating one at the first glance. Meanwhile, it is semiotically also an index: The Mona Lisa is a portrait of the actual lady Mona Lisa, while the Mona Lisa on the wall of Gallery of the Louvre imitated by Morse is also a painting of the authentic artwork Mona Lisa. In a higher level, the Mona Lisa is also a symbol, representing a masterpiece in art history, the flourishment of art in Renaissance, one of the Italian schools, etc. All of the psychological process of endowing meanings to one thing just happen in a second without people’s awareness. They are not traceable unless we reverse the whole process and to deconstruct it from the interpretation perspective. However, whether creating meanings and interpreting have symmetrical processes stay questionable.



Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics (with a case study).

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.”

In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren,

Stuart Hall, Encoding/decoding. In S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, & P. Willis (Eds.), Culture, media, language (pp.5-39). London: Hutchinson.

A Reflection on the Reading and the Museum Visit

Yutong Zhang

This post can be divided into two parts. The first part is my thoughts and understanding on the artworks as interface inspired by the reading of this week. The second part is my experience in The Philipps Collection and the questions I have after visiting it.

Artworks that have survived history and been preserved in museums can be regarded as medium bridging modern people and history. To a certain extent, an artwork can epitomize a period of history, because artists, like sand in a river, are unavoidably influenced by the social context at their time. Each school of fine art is born in a unique historical environment. From this perspective, an artwork hung on the wall in a museum provides an opportunity for art explorers to have a conversation with artists across the time and to understand the big picture of a time through the small world depicted in an easel.

To think it from the angle of the social network system, an artwork which can be regarded as a node in the network-like artworld (Irvine, n.d.). An artwork might be interwoven in a huge network that interconnects to different groups of people and institutions, including artists, collectors, curators, patrons, dealers, art critics, museums and universities, etc. An artwork exhibited in a museum confirms the network pattern in the Artworld. On the one hand, it is obvious that the artwork is directly connected to the museum in this case. On the other hand, there is a chain of unaware connections underlying this single tie. According to Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander (2007), collection, conservation, research, exhibition, and education or interpretation are the main functions of museums. Furthermore, I believe that, though sometimes there might be an overlap, usually different functions can serve or involve different groups of people or institutions. For example, the collection function of the museum gratifies the collecting passion of collectors; the conservation function of the museum involves skilled conservators who have chemistry and physics knowledge; the research function of the museum serves researchers; the exhibition function serves mainly visitors; the education or interpretation function may involve students, professors or institutions like art schools and universities. In this perspective, the artwork exhibited in a museum can thus directly and also indirectly connect to all groups of people and institutions I mentioned above.

Walking in The Phillips Collection was a special experience. None of the museums I have been to is like The Phillips Collection, whose exhibition space includes both modern architecture and an old historical building. After we walk through the hallway connecting the new modern building to Phillips’ family house, the feeling suddenly changed. Historical ornaments and the modern lines and color blocks are so different that at first, it made me feel strange. I was familiar with the pattern that modernist artworks are exhibited in a large empty room where the labels on the white walls are the only ornaments. However, in the Music Room, Mondrian’s two artworks are hung on the wall with wooden lattice decoration, between which there is a huge fireplace delicately decorated in a very European way. This firstly reminds me that exhibition arrangement is also a critical factor in whether people could efficiently comprehend the artwork or the museum as an interface. Artworks have a conversation with other artworks in the exhibition room and also have a conversation with space where it is shown. Mondrian’s artworks in a historical building might be strange at the first glance but if people look at it more from the angle of network and interface, it is easy to realize that the seeming incoherence between the modern paintings and the historical ornaments is also bridging them. The combination of modernist art and historical building reflect on changes and different trends in the history of both fine art and architecture. It proves that my initial imagination for a modernist museum is cliché, and is framed by the knowledge that has been admitted by the mainstream, which apparently neglects other possible perspectives.

The short field trip to The Phillips Collection also made me come up questions about the influence of museums and problems arisen in this area. Buren (1985) argues that the museum marks its exhibition and imposes a frame on it. Does it also mark and frame people’s mindset in some way? Is it because we focus so much on the artworks hung on the walls in the museums that we usually ignore their identity as media in a broader social context? The online introduction of the Rothko Room in The Phillips Collection says: “Rothko visited the room and treasured the atmosphere. On a 1961 visit when Phillips was away, he asked the staff to make several small adjustments to the space. Phillips noticed—and reversed—the changes when he returned.” Thus, the authority is also a problem I am concerned: who has a say in the space of the museums, artists (of those exhibited artworks), the patrons, the collectors or curators or directors of the museums? Shouldn’t we respect the thought of artists the most?



Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums, Second Edition (Mountain Creek, CA; London, UK: Altamira Press, 2007).

Daniel Buren, “Function of the Museum.” In Theories of Contemporary Art, edited by Richard Hertz, 2nd ed., 189–92. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Martin Irvine, “Introduction to the Institutional Theory of Art and the Artworld.”

The Phillips Collection Website,


Yutong Zhang