Some 35 miles north of us is the largest multi-touch screen in the United States.
It’s part of Gallery One at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which, to say the least, offers visitors a unique, interactive experience.
Blending art, technology and interpretation, the multi-touch screen compiles mountains of data in the blink of an eye so that visitors can effortlessly enjoy a revolutionary new way of viewing works of art.
Displaying images of the more than 3,500 objects from the museum’s superb and widely envied permanent collection, the 40-foot-wide touch screen — called the “Collection Wall” — allows visitors to create their own museum tours and to discover (or rediscover) the collection’s full richness.
This is a most useful tool for visiting the museum, even for veteran museum-goers, as nothing’s where it used to be, except possibly the Armor Court, and even that is a challenge to find since the new construction.
The museum, which once seemed so compact and familiar, now seems spread to the four corners of the compass, and in many ways that’s true.
And because of the collection’s new configuration — spread out in the cardinal directions framing the massive (and gloomy, if one is honest) atrium court — visitors need a map.
That’s what the “Collection Wall” provides.
It all begins with your iPad or iPad mini.
In order to use the “Collection Wall” and to download its information, you must first install the museum’s new ArtLens app from iTunes. Or you can borrow an iPad from the museum, which has the app already installed. Make sure your device is synced to the museum’s wi-fi network.
Then, go to the Gallery One visitor’s desk and ask for an RFID Code disk. This disk is placed in the center circle of the docking station and your iPad is placed on top of it.
Once that’s done, any object on the Collection Screen that you touch and drag toward you is automatically downloaded onto your iPad.
You can sort through works of art by name, date, style, medium, allowing visitors to explore how works of art were made, where they came from and why they were produced — not to mention where they are in the new gallery system.
For instance, one of the tours available through ArtLens is the “Director’s Tour: American and European,” which takes 45 minutes, includes seven stops and seven videos to explore the museum’s collections of American and European art with David Franklin, the museum’s director.
You’ll hear Franklin explain how to look at objects and find in-depth discussions of Gilbert Stuart’s Elizabeth Beltzhoover Mason; J.M.W. Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834; Andrea del Sarto’s The Sacrifice of Isaac; Caravaggio’s The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew; El Greco’s The Holy Family with Mary Magdalen; Albert Pinkham Ryder’s The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse); and Albert Bierstadt’s Yosemite Valley.
Franklin also has put together tours of the Ancient, Medieval and African collections, and the Modern and Contemporary collections.
The first screen of the director’s tours shows a list of works on one side of the screen and a gallery mock-up on the other showing the location of the works.
Play around with these tours. The information crammed into them is seemingly endless, but can only be accessed if you keep tapping the areas of the screen that seem to carry more information.
You can also put together your own tour from the images on the Collection Wall, which will come with all the attendant locations and background information, just like the director’s tours.
When you’re done playing with the Wall, look around Gallery One. It’s composed of three major areas — Studio Play, Highlights and the new Focus Gallery — that offer something for various comfort levels of museum and art knowledge.
Studio Play is for younger visitors and their families. A bright and colorful space, it offers a chance to play games and learn about art, including a multi-touch microtile wall where visitors can draw lines that are matched to works of art in the collection; a shadow-puppet theater where silhouettes of objects can be used as actors in plays; mobile- and sculpture-building stations where visitors can create their own interpretations of modern sculptures by Calder and Lipchitz; and a sorting and matching game.
The main gallery space contains major works from the permanent collection. It has 14 themed groups of works, six of which have “lens” stations that can be accessed when your iPad is in range.
The space also contains an HD monitor called the Beacon that displays real-time results of visitors’ activities in the space, such as favorite objects, tours and activities.
The exhibit in the Focus Gallery through April 21 is Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: La Vie (1903), the first exhibit to offer an in-depth exploration of this key painting from Picasso’s so-called “Blue Period.”
It is an enigmatic painting that points to influences from Francisco Goya, Albrecht Durer and Auguste Rodin, all of which are explored in the exhibit and the beautifully written, 163-page catalog by William H. Robinson, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s curator of modern European art, that accompanies the show.
The catalog uses La Vie to shed light on Picasso’s creative process, as well as issues in the Modernist culture of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Was La Vie inspired by the death of Picasso’s good friend Carles Casagemas, a fellow artist who had committed suicide two years before its completion? Picasso altered the original painting to substitute Casagemas’ portrait for his own.
Was the suicide the motive for the replacement or was it something else? This isn’t the only mystery surrounding the work, which as one scholar puts it, the painting “has given rise to more mystification than any other early work” by Picasso.
And, notes Robinson, “questions about its perplexing subject, early history and relationship to other works in Picasso’s oeuvre remain unresolved to this day.”
Visitors will have a grand old time exploring the various explanations put forth by Robinson and other scholars, and seeing the ties between Rodin’s sculpture of the lovers from his Gates of Hell and the fatal love story of Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Just as there are layers upon layers in this artwork, so are there multiple layers in the museum’s new Gallery One.
Don’t miss out on this. It’s a unique experience that can only be had at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.