InterCommunication No.15 1996


High Tech, Museums, and the New Visual Literacy 2/5

"It's a reoccurring theme with technology as it relates to museums--that technology takes people away from works of art," says Scott SAYRE, director of Museum Media and Technology at Minneapolis Institute of Art [*1]. "But visitors come to museums for a number of different reasons, emotional and spiritual. They see a museum as a sanctuary. Technology is never going to be a replacement for that."
"To look at a painting, we must look at a painting," says David ROSS, director of Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. "We don't mistake the menu for the food."
Alan SHESTACK, deputy director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., is adamant, "The magic of great art only works upon you when you confront it face to face. One of the issues of art is scale."
Like his colleagues, Peter S. SAMIS, program manager of interactive technologies and assistant curator of education at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is technologically literate and cyber-savvy, two critical job skills for curatorial gatekeepers of 21st century aesthetics. SAMIS believes it is possible to create a digital program that conveys the spirit of the artist and artwork. "Art is inanimate too," says SAMIS. "And yet, it is still able to communicate qualities of soul to people. Well conceived multimedia programs can do the same."
To illustrate his point, SAMIS speaks of "Voices and Images of California Art" [*2], an audio/visual archive of California artists in SFMOMA's collection, and one of three interactive productions available to on-site visitors. "Voice's is a digital scrapbook. It brings the artist to you," explains SAMIS, by using an intimate, animated collage of video, print, photographs and audio interspersed with digital camera moves.