iPad app augments art

By Emily Ornberg

Among sculptures of ancient Greek gods and centuries-old French paintings sits the Art Institute of Chicago’s own 10-inch project—an iPad app.

LaunchPad, the first app of its kind, debuted at the Art Institute, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Oct. 28. It enhances the museum-going experience by bringing the art to life through enhanced 3-D animations, behind-the-scenes videos and in-depth information about the artwork. It was designed by the museum’s Department of Digital Information and Access with help from the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Sandbox Studios, a museum project management firm based in Minnesota.

The museum’s Eloise W. Martin Galleries of European Decorative Arts feature 25 iPads, each containing more that 50 works of art. Sixteen kiosks were installed Nov. 11 in the new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman and Byzantine Art, according to Liz Neely, a project manager for LaunchPad.

Neely said the iPads are in these galleries because they contain art that has lost a connection with audiences.

“People walk through [these galleries] and they don’t really know how to look at the objects,” Neely said. “How do we use the opportunities that are available to us to make an emotional connection between you and the artwork? How do we help bring it to life? Technology has a lot to offer there.”

One of the pieces that utilizes this technology is an 18th century gold clock that hangs in the European Decorative Arts gallery. Its intricate and regal design resembles the Baroque style of its time, but by studying LaunchPad’s profile on the clock, users will learn it was designed to flicker in candlelight. Video clips show how the clock’s golden gargoyles appear differently in a dimly candlelit hallway and allow users to hear its now-silent music box melody.

“To be able to hear something that hasn’t been heard in 300 years just evokes emotions,” Neely said.

Other videos created for LaunchPad show contemporary artists authentically recreating period pieces, taking the viewer through each step of the process. The app features American artist Patrick Edwards, who is classically trained in French marquetry, recreating an 18th century coffer chest, intricately detailed with tortoiseshell and brass, using the same tools as the original artist, André Charles Bouller.

The interactive LaunchPad page for a 17th century cabinet lets users open drawers and cabinet doors to reveal the pharmaceutical tools and bottles stored inside, none of which can be seen as the cabinet is displayed in the museum.

The app also has in-depth features like a “Related Stories” page for each object that provides information on connected topics, such as relating a Zeus sculpture to Superman and offering contextual information on Greece at the time it was made.

Kyle Jaebker, director of the IMA Labs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, was contacted by the AIC to help produce LaunchPad and has been assisting with its development since the beginning of the year. He said enabling users to see all sides of a piece of art is what sets LaunchPad apart from other museum kiosks.

“A lot of [the art pieces] are three-dimensional objects, so seeing more than one side of them can really bring a lot more detail,” Jaebker said. “[LaunchPad] draws [viewers] in and engages them with the content, and they can actually learn more about what they’re looking at.”

Thon Lorenz, developer of a similar touch-screen information kiosk used in the Abraham Lincoln exhibit in the Chicago History Museum, said interactive digital technology is the way of the future in public education.

“People like poking screens, swiping stuff and [they] are pretty well trained at it these days,” Lorenz said. “If you see a large monitor in a public space, you expect to be able to touch it, whether you’re getting used to that from ATMs or your phone.”

Neely said this generation’s interconnectivity makes iPads a successful and innovative way to engage museum-goers, and she hopes to make LaunchPad available outside the Art Institute.

“I think there’s a big addition to the gallery experience … but it’s just too good of content,” Neely said. “We want to make this into an app that people can get from the App Store and people can bring in and use on their own.”

Visit the Multimedia page to see video footage of the LaunchPad in action.