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09-08-26 wall street j vergleich multimedia moma walker la brooklyn
Getting an Earful at the Museum
By NANCY MATSUMOTO
Wall Street Journal online: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204660604574374744212857028.html AUGUST 26, 2009, 10:15 P.M. ET
With art-museum entry fees hitting $20 in some cities, who can blame art lovers for wanting to squeeze every drop of intellectual and aesthetic nourishment from the experience? Fortunately, the increasing sophistication of museum audio and multimedia guides has made it possible to learn more, and through more delivery systems, than ever before.
Figuring out how to take advantage of these state-of-the-art museum tours can take some time, however. "The entire in-museum experience is in flux—the platforms, the applications, the kinds of content," says Sarah Dines, managing director of Antenna Audio, a designer of museum audio and multimedia guides. While the content of these guides is often cutting-edge, the delivery systems aren't all "ready for prime time yet."
We visited four art museums across the country to sample their self-guided tours. Because there are now a variety of delivery systems to choose from, we learned that it's best to explore your options on the museum's Web site before visiting in person. In addition to old-fashioned museum audio guides, choices can include cellphone, MP3, Wi-Fi or RSS access to the same material. Audio or multimedia devices are usually available free as part of admission; at some museums, you can save the device rental cost, and possibly another wait in line, by downloading guides to your own MP3 player before you visit.
At museums offering access to guides using our own cellphone, sound quality was inferior to that of MP3 players, and we missed the ability to stop, pause or rewind. Visitors who don't have an unlimited calling plan won't like using up precious minutes on the guide, either. Yet the chief of technology at the Brooklyn Museum, Shelley Bernstein, says that visitors still prefer on-demand use with their own hardware; audio-guide use tripled when the museum jettisoned hand-held wand devices and substituted the cellphone program.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York City offered an impressive choice of both commentary and listening platforms. We could borrow a free audio guide at the museum (leaving our driver's license as security), download the same content onto our MP3 player using iTunes, or access it through the museum's Wi-Fi network, MOMAWiFi, using our own PDA.
The hand-held audio guide was simple to operate, allowing us to stop, pause, fast-forward or rewind during a segment and also control the volume. At the James Ensor special exhibition, there were 15 audio entries, identifiable by a headphone icon and three-digit "stop code" on the printed text panels next to the paintings. By entering the number on the device keypad, we could hear erudite commentary from curators, as well as fascinating and technically detailed comments from the artist Terry Winters. The audio descriptions generally elaborated on, rather than repeated, text descriptions, and sound quality was superior.
In addition to the special exhibit guides, MOMA offers "Modern Voices," commentary in eight different languages on selected works from the permanent collection, as well as audio guides for visually impaired or blind viewers, teens and kids.
It was easy to download the free audio guides onto our iPod through iTunes, but we found accessing the proper segment unnecessarily difficult, as the MP3 segments didn't include stop codes. It was only after consulting with MOMA creative director of digital media Allegra Burnette that we learned that there were two forms of audio guides available through iTunes: one deliverable to our iPod by subscribing to MOMA podcasts, the other by downloading guides through something called "iTunes U," geared more toward classroom use. The former came with stop codes, and made the art works described easier to locate on our iPod.
Our next challenge came in trying to access MOMAWiFi using our BlackBerry. The third museum staffer we asked for help told us that this feature only worked with the iPod Touch and iPhone. MOMA, Ms. Burnette told us, is in the process of retooling the program to be compatible with any Web-enabled phone.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's free multimedia tour is available both through an interactive map on the museum's Web site and on its sleek Nokia PDAs. The guide is available in English, Spanish and Korean, and is the only one we tried that incorporated voice, music, photos, film and video. By registering your email address when you check out the devices, you can bookmark favorite works and access them remotely through the museum's Web site and fun "virtual gallery."
A minor annoyance was that the Nokia's touch screen was overly sensitive, making it easy to press the wrong buttons by mistake. But we loved the thoughtful and layered content: A segment on an 1876 American ceramic vase with buffalo head handles directed us to look at our screen. There, a shocking 1870 photograph depicted a mountain of buffalo skulls that dwarfed the two men standing next to it. The narrator described the species' decimation, giving historical context to the whimsical vase handles.
Sadly, only 175 items of the museum's permanent holdings are included on the guide, not all of which are on view, and there was scant advertising for it. Although Jane Burrell, the museum's vice president for education and public programs, said ticket sellers are encouraged to offer the devices to visitors, we had to ask for ours.
The Web site of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis gave us the choice of opening MP3 guides in zip file format, accessing them with our cellphone, subscribing to podcasts through iTunes or via RSS, or borrowing a preloaded iPod at the museum. On our home computer, the zip files took between five and 18 minutes to open; subscribing on iTunes was much quicker. There, it was clear which selections were museum special exhibit podcasts, and which were from iTunes U, although we found that the standard gallery audio guide was temporarily unavailable.
We had no trouble dialing the local access number and punching in stop codes to use the Art On Call cellphone guides. When we decided to borrow iPods, however, we learned that we were checking out the only two devices available (a third was undergoing repairs). Director of New Media Initiatives Robin Dowden says the Walker's "emphasis has always been on users providing their own technology, not on rentable units," adding that the iPods rentals will soon be suspended until stocks can be replenished in November. The commentary was informative
and interesting, though as at LACMA, we wished the guide covered more of the museum's holdings.
The Brooklyn Museum's Pocket Museum audio guide program included cellphone tours, downloadable guides through iTunes and iPod rentals ($5 for nonmembers, $3 for members). Our cellphone worked better on the upper floors than on the first floor Arts of Africa exhibit, where we occasionally couldn't get a signal at all. Ms. Bernstein explained that the 1896 building had to be outfitted with a network of cellphone repeaters to enable the program, and admitted that service can still be patchy in places.
Switching to our own iPod provided instant relief, and we reveled in the vastly better sound quality.
Our downloaded guide to the permanent exhibit of Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party" was essential to getting the most out of the show.
Of all the iTunes guides we tried, the Brooklyn Museum's were the easiest to use, with content clearly organized and all stop codes included. The museum's own iPods were similarly foolproof.
PRICE AUDIO/MULTIMEDIA LANGUAGES COMMENT
TOURS AVAILABLE AVAILABLE
Museum of Modern
Los Angeles County
Museum of Art
film and video, but limited number of works covered. Access to multimedia tour to be extended to web-enabled phones soon.
Walker Art Center
restocked in the fall, check availability before going.
Museum- Audio guides via your
brooklynmuseum.org iPods $5 downloadable guides
especially on the first floor. Visitor-generated recommendation application for web-enabled phones to be added soon.
—Kelly Spors contributed to this article.
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