Art Institute of Chicago Unveils LaunchPad

Posted in museums by Editor on November 7, 2012

AIC press release (29 October 2012) . . .

The Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Digital Information and Access and the Department of European Decorative Arts are pleased to unveil a new gallery interactive that revolutionizes the museum experience while improving public access to art. LaunchPad is a specially developed platform for the iPad—containing engaging and interactive multimedia resources—that brings three-dimensional objects to life. With the new LaunchPads in the galleries, visitors have at their fingertips basic introductory facts about works of art enhanced by animations, brief video documentaries on techniques and use, and views of the works not possible in the galleries alone.

Drawers open, music plays, and objects are assembled and re-assembled right in front of visitors—lending great insight to the original contexts, uses, and construction of works of art from the 16th through the 19th centuries. The new technology and visualization tools will debut on October 28, 2012 with more than 50 objects featured on 25 iPads installed in the Eloise W. Martin Galleries of European Decorative Arts. LaunchPad will also be stationed at 16 kiosks throughout the new Jaharis Galleries of Ancient, Roman, and Byzantine Art when those galleries open to the public on November 11. With this effort, the Art Institute of Chicago becomes one of the first museums to offer such extensive scholarly and entertaining content—more than 1000 supporting images, 16 videos, and behind-the-scenes glimpses into context and conditions of production of works of art—on a custom platform rooted in the gallery experience.

“The decorative arts in a museum have always presented something of a challenge,” said Douglas Druick, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute of Chicago. “These objects—chairs, cabinets, tableware—were originally designed to be used but must now be protected so they can be preserved. We are thrilled that we can present these intricate objects in a much richer context through the creative use of technology, thanks to the generosity of Melinda Martin Sullivan and the Eloise W. Martin Legacy Fund. And we are confident that the LaunchPad platform and the resources it contains will be a model not only
for other galleries here at the Art Institute but for other
museums as well.”

“LaunchPad has truly been a collaborative effort involving no fewer than 71 professionals across the museum and beyond,” said Sam Quigley, project leader for LaunchPad and vice president for collections management, imaging, and information technology. “Working so intimately with Ghenete Zelleke, Samuel and M. Patricia Grober Curator in the Department of European Decorative Arts, and her colleagues, along with videographers, editors, photographers, and researchers has been a monumental, and monumentally satisfying, effort. And our hope is that similar institutions may take up LaunchPad as a model; with our development partners at IMA Labs of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Sandbox Studios, we have been committed to making this an open source platform so that others may benefit from, and build on, what we have developed.”

More than two and a half years in development, LaunchPad will offer visitors the chance to get up close to some of the centuries-old objects in the Art Institute’s collection and discover their hidden stories through several innovative technologies. Users will be able to virtually “handle” objects, turning them over to examine the exquisite artistry on each and every side, through advanced 360-degree imaging. And animated videos of works such as the magnificent multi-chambered Augsburg Cabinet will allow users to open doors and drawers and see the beautiful carvings in the interiors and the pharmaceutical tools and bottles that are stored inside.

For the LaunchPad platform, teams at the museum have additionally created more than a dozen videos that focus on the skilled craftsmanship that went into making the pieces, providing an intimate view into the actual processes and techniques behind these objects. One such film captures Patrick Edwards, one of very few Americans trained in traditional 18th-century French marquetry, or wood inlay, recreating sections of an intricate coffer by André Charles Boulle in his San Diego studio— without a power tool in sight. Another video records two artists, one from the School of the Art Institute’s ceramics department, fashioning a replica of an earthenware vase step by step, from throwing to painting to glazing.

With its host of unique resources—which even includes an 18th-century recipe for rabbit stew for the museum’s rabbit-shaped porcelain tureen—LaunchPad will enhance visitors’ experience and appreciation of the museum’s rich holdings of European decorative arts and offer a model for creating the most productive intersection possible between the technology of today and the creative expression of the past.

LaunchPad was designed and written by staff from numerous departments at the Art Institute of Chicago. Its open source software was developed by IMA Labs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art with project coordination and management by Sandbox Studios of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The software is based on the TAP project, which is a collection of free and open source tools supporting the creation and delivery of mobile tours.

LaunchPad was originally conceived for the galleries of European Decorative Arts by Melinda Martin Sullivan and was created with a grant from her late mother, Eloise W. Martin.

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