Category Archives: Week 13

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.

Different interpretive interfaces in art

The Museum is the first interface we got in touch with in this semester. By visiting it, we viewed lots of artworks through wandering on our feet, in the space where artworks exhibited. The interpretive function of museum ties deeply with our personal experience. Interpreting becoming a progress of discovering, under the hint of curator’s hints. A special factor of the imply is space: how the works are arranged indicated their relationship with each other.

In most time, the works showed in same small room share similar period or genre. When we were in national gallery, we can see how the style of paintings developed alongside the path. Another commonly seen pattern is how the contradiction between artworks (either style or the context it represented) could be shown in the museum. Last weekend, I went to the exhibition Empresses of China’s Forbidden City. In one room of that exhibition, portraits of two different empresses are hanged on two opposite walls. One painting shows an empress famous for being a virtuous and beloved emperor’s wife, and another portrays an empress dowager famous for her wisdom and political influence. By presenting the two artworks in this position, the curator is indicating the contradiction between love and power in the empress’s life. This setting also reminds me of the trip at Philips Collection. When we see the Mondrian’s works in different period was presented in oppression, we can clearly feel the strong change in his style.

However, in other kinds of interpretive interfaces of artworks, the possibilities of discovery and multiple interprets passed. Book, also serves as an interface, couldn’t presents artworks in the three-dimensional space. What we got here is illustration presented in one and only one sequence, for one and only purpose. While the visitors enjoy a time-passing conversation with curator, readers are no longer in a dialogue with the writers, but only accept what he gets and listen to the book’s teaching.

The online interfaces claim promising a simulation museum experience, yet it is not the same. On one hand, through several movement on keyboard or mouse, online interface gives us ability to zooming and browsing artworks as   will. The nonlinear experience beyond space provides us an illusion of freedom. We can even easily build our own structure if we like. But what we got is only the “didactic objects”, showing what the artworks looks like, and that is all. We are interacting with the appearance of an artwork and the information carries by it, but never the real one.

All that is solid melts into air

Two years ago when I was in Turkey I visited The Museum of Innocence,  a revolutionary concept conceived by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk as he created the space based on his fiction with the same title.  His book tells the story of Kemal, an upper-class man from Istanbul, fell in love with his young cousin Füsun, and decided to obsessively collect everything his beloved has touched. Therefore, the only collection housed inside the museum is of the gigantic amount of seemingly ordinary objects that document this obsessive love and, by extension, remnants of the bygone world in which the story is set in. It was a very different experience from any other museum I’ve ever visited—I didn’t see white walls, famous artworks, or rare antiquities. In his personal manifesto, Pamuk confessed that he is “against precious monumental institutions being used as blueprints for future museums”; instead, museums should “explore and uncover the universe and humanity of the new and modern man”—just like novels, they should speak for individuals. I interpret his statement as somewhat a criticism on the institutionally of museums: museums in the future should remove its own limitations and readily become “of people, by people, for people”. 

However, let us take a step back and ask ourselves: why are we still going to museums anyway? I never really thought about that question before taking this class. Simply because history and art are fun to experience? Sure. But as so much technological progress has enabled us to see art whenever and wherever we are, why are we still going to the Smithsonian on a Sunday despite metro’s sporadic weekend hours? Indeed, though many functions of museums are no longer confined within their physical spaces, people still go to museums for something that is not so effortlessly accessible, something so mesmerizing about those white walls and seeing those famous artworks and rare antiquities in person: I believe museums have equipped us with a certain mindset of experiencing and appreciating art, and the point of creating museums is to help people preserve and nourish such mindset. As art could easily lose its meanings when we switch its context, museums grant us a well-constructed safe space to discover this set of meanings on our own. So much so that we do not see art at all once we step out of the museums. 

Now let’s go back to Pamuk’s point. While we can certainly celebrate the concept of building a museum that tells the personal stories of individuals—as a matter of fact, we should expect the subjects, the curators, and the audiences of museums to change constantly throughout the time; we can argue whether online, digital museums are eventually going to take over the place of traditional museums. Nonetheless, it is forever going to be a quest for us to cultivate our ability to interpret art whenever, wherever, however we see it. Thousands of cigaret butts smoked by the same woman mounted behind plexiglass have their meanings, while thousands of random cigaret butts scattered across the streets in Istanbul do not—or maybe they do, depending on the context. The question is and will always be, as the boundaries of “what constitutes art spaces” are slowly melting into the thin air, are we still all carrying our compasses with us to explore the uncharted territories ahead? 

The importance of interpretive interface

The general public does not understand what art is, and they may never will without a proper course to educate them. Sometimes they do not recognize artworks immediately as “Art,” other times, they may simply regard those “shapes” they do not understand to be “art” around them. So do we need to educate everyone to art so that everyone could appreciate artworks? Probably not. What we possibly need is to present artworks in a certain environment for the general public to see, to think, and to interpret actively. Certainly, there are many public spaces such as cities, streets and shopping malls striving to act as the interface of showing art, yet their representation as “artistic interface” has only generated a rather low-end appreciation of arts. People do like their exhibitions sometimes, yet their interpretations of artworks may only be confined either to their aesthetic beauty or to their unconventional ideas under their physical shapes. There is no space for more profound interpretation.

A sculpture made of LEGO blocks exhibited in a shopping mall in New Jersey, photo by Siheng Zhu

Compared to these public space of exhibition, museums not only provide people with a certain degree of “cultural stereotype” of being “artistic institutions,” but also offers people the “environment” and “circumstance” they need to conduct current interpretation of artworks. Take Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse exhibition in Hirshhorn as an example. Anyone who visits the last room of light-bulb exhibition would be impressed by the overwhelming effect of light effects they see when he enters the rooms, and it would become even more impactful when he realizes that his heartbeat controls all the lights in this room. The artistic interaction between human biology and technology is the basic catch of this exhibition, and Hirshhorn museum as the interface has created a place of decoding for people to understand the meaning behind this exhibition. However, what if this light takes place in a park? Lozano-Hemmer one performed similar installation in New York City, where he installed his pulsing light-bulbs in the central oval field of Madison Square Park. The visualization is without a doubt impressive, yet did it achieve the same artistic level as the one shown in the Hirshhorn Museum? Maybe not. Edward Tufte states that ”good information visualizations allow interpreters to discover and understand meanings and relationships not apparent in the data or representations of objects themselves.” The museum, as a physical interface itself, acts as the vessel of interpretation as well as the vehicle of active meaning discovery. Therefore, it can be guaranteed that museums will never become alienated from human cultural society since their presence is one of the ”last resort” for human artistic thinking.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Pulse Park, Relational Architecture 14”, 2008.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Pulse Exhibition

Creating a dialog between arts is also imperative for creating a useful art interface. When looking at the Google Art Project Interface, one notable feature of it is to introduce, filter, as well as to form collections of artworks using the art movement they associate with. This way of categorizing indeed do help the audiences with understanding specific artworks’ year and date of creation, as well as the general art circumstances that affect these pieces. This way of interfacing lacks a basic understanding of historical connectedness artworks possess inside themselves. According to professor Irvine, a successful interface should be composed of a “meaning network” that allow nodes inside it to “break” and “group” freely, thus creating an interconnected relationship across the system. However, Google Art interface only offers a rigid categorization of art that seems to never “interact” with one another. Therefore, it may create confusions among audiences to make them believe that every art movement is “spontaneous” and came out with no foundation or relation to former movements. Therefore, Google art interface may need to consider adding more curated dialogues in their “exhibitions” in order to connect their collection of digital art pieces into a consistent “network” to create meaning and interpretation to understand art genuinely.

Online interface, a new space? or just an extension?

What is the value of physical museums? What if the online museum could replace the offline museum? When talked about the physical museums, the first thing came into my mind is education. One of the most important functions of the museum, not only for the museums in the U.S but the museums around the world, are set for mass education and spreading knowledge. Instead of persevered as private collections, art and historical pieces became national treasures and the meanings of the pieces also were transmitted by the museums to the public. However, the trend of transmitting did not stop at the point when the treasures could be viewed inside a public space, but it was developed to online education. Now, the art and historical pieces could be viewed by anyone at anywhere. The educational function of the museums spread and developed by the new technology and anyone can have a close look at the art pieces online. Online museums largely enlarge the scale of worldwide visitors.

However, showing pictures, or setting up a “platform” for artworks, did not match the entire goal of mass education. Museums’ functions for collections, preservations, and interpretations are much more than a collection of pictures.  Even though web design assist curators introduce and interpret the context of historical or art pieces, the process of interpreting and arranging artworks in a specific space is different from online interpretation. When viewing artworks online, users’ view and thoughts were all limited within a screen and all of the visual space and pictures are 2D instead of 3D. At the same time, the environment of viewing artworks is totally different, texts are all shown in a page or a paragraph, designers’ logic and thoughts are inevitably rooted in the websites, and therefore, users’ have little space for exploring and wondering. For example, when I walk around in space, I can explore the art and history and follow my thoughts, finding something interesting and go back to another space and find connections. However, when I view artworks online, my thoughts will be interrupted by the time spent on controlling the mouse and the navigations of the websites.

The online collection forms a new process of learning and interpretation. With the enlargement of the online collection, I have the same question that whether the interpretation would be different if all the artworks will be viewed online before visitors view it in a museum. When visitors get “familiarity with reproductions”, how could they interpret the artworks when they see the original one? Would they focus more on the size, the frame, or the width of the artworks? or will they put more emphasis on the meaning of the artwork? If an artwork was copied precisely that even a crack could be seen when the visitors stand in front of it, will the viewers be surprised at the size of the artwork is only 2′ 6″ x 1′ 9″?

screenshot of Mona Lisa

I believe that online museums will never take the place of physical museums. Even though multimedia experience enriches the online experience, people are addicted to the original pieces. Reproductions are replicative, and the original pieces are irreplaceable and special, even though without physical space of the museums, the original pieces hold historical meanings and values by themselves.


  1. Mona Lisa.jpg, retrieved from
  2. Kim Beil, “Seeing Syntax: Google Art Project and the Twenty-First-Century Period Eye.” Afterimage 40, no. 4 (February 1, 2013): 22–27.
  3. Nancy Proctor, “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2, 2011.

What I Know about Art

Artwork is originally used to record human’s daily life. At first, our ancestors can only draw some rough symbols on the rock, such as animals, sun, and tree. Later, they create paper, pen, and pigments. With the help of the equipment, they begin to explore different ways to record their life and thoughts. The idea of genre appears. We have realism, impressionism, and even cubism. The definition of artwork is no longer limited to oil on canvas and/or sculpture. People can present an art idea with a combination of different materials. More than that, artists now can work with digital display to present art.

Although we now have multiple forms of art, the nature of art essentially is to preserve a piece of memory and to convey a message. No matter the artwork is presented on what kind of interface: two dimensional paper, three dimensional space (museum), and virtual plane (digital screen), all the elements of one artwork are served for the piece of memory and/or message.

The museum idea allows people to consider thousands of art pieces together as a whole, beside just talking about individual artwork. Nancy Proctor mentions that Google art offers high resolution image for art pieces. These reproductions are allowed to take a close-up look and/or a distance of visual depth. Users no longer need to spend time on commuting, and everyone who owns Internet and a device can see the art pieces. Google art is definitely one of the conveniences Internet brings to us.

However, Google art cannot afford us everything. For example, the exhibition, Pulse, we experienced in Hirshhorn Museum cannot be presented on that. Although people can take a video for the human computer interaction and let users know what the exhibition is, however, the video cannot be seen as an art work, especially for this exhibition and other installation art. Indeed, the unique interaction between the installation and “you” creates a piece of memory, and “you” derive your own understanding about the exhibition. This piece of memory and the understanding are the meaning of art, which cannot be provided by an online video.

Although Google art cannot help us have a real interaction with some kinds of art, nonetheless, future technology might make us reach that. It might be the fact that someday in the future, we can touch the screen in remote space. And time will tell us.

What does the Museum bring to us

Museums will not vanish in the flood of technology. Even with the fast development of technology and increasingly various use of technology, the function of the museum will not be weakened. The museum is the palace of aesthetics, history and culture. It is the core node in the web of society, connecting the history and the future, connecting the progress of beauty, connecting the public and the privileged class.

“We live and think in interpretive communities, and ‘use’information represented in symbolic form so that we can build ‘cognitive maps’ in which meanings and values become interpretable.” The museum helps to form the symbolic meaning and decide what is beauty. It is an interface to the cultural aesthetic.

Wherever and whenever, Museums have their specific meanings.

1) A certain beauty in a certain environment

Just like what we have seen in the Hirshhorn Museum, Pickett’s Charge was installed  in America’s Capitol connects history back to present day, and brings time full circle, much like the shape of the Hirshhorn. It’s so big, which makes me feel like what it has described and depicted was just happened around me. Only by experiencing in the Hirshhorn Museum can we better learn the history and the meaning that it wants to convey.

Took in the field trip Andrea

To this extent, the museum works as the interface to the history. The beauty of such a work can only be appreciate in such a museum. You can have a general view of works of Mark Bradford, however, you may not experience the carriage of history is coming.

2) Understand the artist through the dialogue created by the museum

This winter, I visited the Shanghai biennale. There is an oval hall, with 360 mechanical clocks arcing in a circle, each 4 seconds faster than the previous one, adding up to 24 hours a day. When I entered the bright hall, I could only hear the ticking of the second hand. There is a feeling of breaking into the future world. The oval exhibition hall not only shows the cycle of time, but also highlights the infinite elongation of time. Bright lights and white walls make visitors feel as if they are in a time tunnel and can feel the power of time.When I immerse yourself in the space field of clockwise, I could perceive a synchronicity of everything and a fluid modernity.

Took by Andrea

According to the artist Cristina Lucas , she focuses on dividing and ordering time, thus highlighting the spatialization and standardization of time. She is not telling the audience that time is fleeting, but trying to reveal the modernity and political nature of the rationalized “time” under the background of the development of the mechanical age and information age with this poetic visual expression.

The resonance between ordinary people and works of art is mostly derived from the intuitive visual experience. Seeing the original works in the art museum brings a touch that cannot be reached by reading books or looking at pictures.

3) an interface for the public  to the “uniqueness,” “authenticity,” and scarcity

Why do we visit the museum? To have a luxury experience and luxury enjoyment. Although without art we can still live in the society, we need art to educate ourselves. In the museum, we are the same regarless of our social status, race, gender, age. An ordinary person can have the same power to appreciate art as the richest person in the world. We even have more time and opportunities.

In the art museum, you can participate in a variety of Tours and activities. The instructors include the staff of the art museum, professors and students of the school. Under the guidance of these people, you can complete an art tour and get a lot of new knowledge and ideas.

You’ll also see a variety of children’s projects. Even a 4-year child can have an interesting art trip in the museum. Museum breaks the boundary. The museum allows the public to enjoy the art once only can be appreciated by the privileged class.


  • Martin Irvine  “Making an Interface”: on the next step: kinds of interfaces for artworks and how to design one.
  • Beil, K. (2013). Seeing syntax: Google art project and the twenty-first-century period eye. Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, 40(4), 22-27.
  • Proctor, N. (2011). The google art project: A new generation of museums on the web? Curator: The Museum Journal, 54(2), 215-221.

Priority, not Privilege

Communities and cultures often create interpretations of artworks from art history professionals. When in the museum setting, curators are the individuals that decide which exhibitions come to life, which artworks are included, and where to hang those works on the walls. Each of these decisions influences how the public views and interprets art, knowingly or unknowingly. The interface that is generated by simply having an exhibition in a museum automatically labels those artworks as “real” art. Additionally, excluding artworks from an exhibition changes the exhibition’s interface without the public’s knowledge. Lastly, deciding where to hang the artwork creates an interface, a story that the public has no control over. From beginning to end, curators are controlling the narrative, and usually, there is little room for other voices to be heard. 

Alternatively, digital interfaces, like Google Arts and Culture, remove the limitations of a physical exhibition in a museum or gallery. For example, a person is able to personally sort the artworks on Arts and Culture by period, color, artist, medium, etc. This freedom is impossible in a museum. A person literally has the ability to look at and compare artwork from around the globe in a matter of seconds. However, there are limitations to this interface, too. The viewer loses scale, depth, and the texture of the artwork. While there are physical limitations from translating the 3D world to a 2D interface, the benefits certainly are greater. A person is able to discover meanings on their own accord, without the hinderance of traveling to a particular museum. Those same meanings can be with, or without, the influence of an art history professional (if the person chooses to read the description of the piece). Inaccessibility to the physical artwork does not limit a person’s ability to generate their own opinions, meanings, or interfaces. Art and artifacts that are in museums belong to the people. Museum professionals are simply stewards of the collection, and we’re finally headed into a time that views remote accessibility to objects as a priority, and not a privilege.