AMITIAE - Sunday 10 August 2014

82nd & Fifth from the Met: Unusual Art App with Video and Curator Commentary

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By Graham K. Rogers

82nd & Fifth

Although many people use iOS devices for creating content, the common view is that they are mainly for content consumption. At this they do rather well of course. As well as reading, many companies have catalogues for the iPad and several galleries have put out apps to allow users around the world to view their rich collections of works, such as the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art with its 82nd & Fifth app for the iPad.

When I was studying in America in the mid-1980s I visited Chicago often and made my way to the Art Institute every time I was in the city. Not long before I left the USA, I had a surprise invitation to stay with friends in New York for a few days over Thanksgiving. While there, I visited the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art a couple of times and found it as inspiring as its Chicago and London counterparts.

Of course, not everyone has the chance to visit such galleries. In the past we might have looked at coffee-table books (or borrowed them from libraries). The Internet changed that when the museums began to put information about their exhibits online, sometimes with multimedia presentations and interactive features.

The advent of the tablet computer added to that and on one device it is now possible to examine more closely such content and in a more personal environment, with additional media assistance. Apps now available include Gagosian Galleries, London's National Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art with 82nd & Fifth.

82nd & Fifth
Apple Maps Satellite View of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The app from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art - 82nd & Fifth - opens with a short video sequence, displaying a rotating globe of the Earth, homing in on New York and 87th and Fifth: the location of the gallery. Then some of the works of Art are displayed, before the video cuts to a brief description: 100 works of Art, 100 curators. This is the core of the app.

I could not make the video repeat, even when removing the app from the recents. After that overview, the user is asked to select a language from 12 offered: Arabic, Chinese (2), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

82nd & Fifth

Once the language is chosen, the user is offered a 4 x 25 grid of the works featured in the app starting with a Rossellino sculptured relief - Faith - with commentary by the British expert Luke Syson who is curator of Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Met. He was formerly at the National Gallery, London.

The commentary is 2 minutes, 38 seconds and is accompanied by a series of images of the marble relief: full size and close-up by Joseph Coscia Jr.. These beautifully lit images link perfectly with the words from Syson.

82nd & Fifth

The final item in the selection is about a series of photographs by Walker Evans with the title, Stare. These are of subway passengers in New York (dated 1938-41), some of which were eventually published in a book: Many are Called.

The commentary by Jeff Rosenheim - Curator in Charge of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art - explains the processes in which the series of images from which Stare is taken were produced. He calls this one of the first conceptual Art projects he was aware of when discussing the thinking behind the images that Evans took. As the commentary continues, several of the images from the series are shown along with more contemporary photographs of the New York subway.

82nd & Fifth

The 98 works in between cover a wide range of genres from 10th Century Iranian silverware, the paintings of Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorki, through European and Asian artefacts, as well as musical instruments, sculpture, plus Amero-Indian and other ancient Art forms.

As well as controls for the video and commentary, each of the 100 panels has three icons: a Star, to add the icon as a favourite (or Episode); an Export icon, which in my case gave me access to Mail and Twitter; and a Download icon, so that the item could be saved (also as an Episode). When the item was downloaded the icon changed to a Trash icon.

82nd & Fifth

This indicated that the data for each item was normally streamed as needed. I confirmed this by putting the iPad into Airplane Mode. The downloaded item still worked, so for some situations, such as a classroom with poor internet access, downloading beforehand would ensure those items needed would be available.

A menu icon at top right in Collection pages (the top level) allows access to the three ways items are organised: My Episodes (with a grid icon), showing all 100 works; Collections, where works are put into 21 classifications (some are in more than one); and My Episodes (with a star icon) for favourites and downloaded items. There are also a Settings icon for changing the language and an Information (i) icon that explains briefly about the App, the Met and credits those working on the app content, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies

I did not try the Twitter icon but the email export gave me a one-line description of the Art work and a URL which linked to the 82nd and Fifth site (the Intersection of Art and Ideas).

To select 100 items that claim to be representative of the massive number of works that form one of the world's major collections is a task that verges on the impossible. For example, I would have liked more Impressionist and Japanese Art; but that is simply my subjective input. The developers should be congratulated on what is included, not criticised for that which is omitted.

As an app for the individual's iPad, the free 82nd and Fifth from the Met (that is its full name) is a lovely way to examine Art we may be unfamiliar with, while experiencing targeted commentaries on the works: an individual guide round the Met.

For a teacher, the app is another useful way to bring the world (this time of Art) into the classroom. This can be done either with the students' own iPads, in those school districts where such programs exist; or by using a projector and loudspeakers, coupled with a more traditional teaching approach.

The number of apps that now bring Art and other media directly to the user has grown significantly in the last few years and the iPad has provided an almost perfect platform for such content. The free 82nd and Fifth from the Metropolitan Museum of Art fits in perfectly with its mix of genres and expert commentaries. This free app is highly recommended.

82nd & Fifth

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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All content copyright © G. K. Rogers 2014