Today the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) unveiled the next generation of its dynamic multimedia program Making Sense of Modern Art on computer learning stations throughout the galleries. The program will be available on the Museum’s Web site (www.sfmoma.org) on October 31, 2000. Focusing on key works in the Museum’s permanent collection, Making Sense of Modern Art combines a set of intuitive interfaces with an intriguing variety of contextual materials to provide an in-depth and engaging guide to modern and contemporary art. Among the highlights of the program are excerpts from video interviews with important artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, Sol LeWitt, Glenn Ligon, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Serra. Making Sense of Modern Art also contains high-quality color images of individual artworks (with the ability to “zoom in” on life-size details of selected pieces); documentary photographs; excerpts from archival videos and films; video clips of curators, critics, art historians and collectors providing expert commentary; and digital scans of original letters, artist books and other primary documents.
First introduced in 1995 in conjunction with the opening of the Museum’s new building, the original, kiosk-based Making Sense of Modern Art examined in depth four permanent collection works from multiple viewpoints. The new program has been redesigned and vastly expanded—in terms of the sophistication of both content and technology—to serve as a guide to signal artists, works and themes of art of the last century. “Making Sense of Modern Art is one of the principal manifestations of SFMOMA’s expanded commitment to education, specifically through programs designed to enhance visitor and public understanding of the Museum’s growing collection,” states SFMOMA Director David A. Ross. “We are extremely proud of our innovative multimedia team for this extraordinary achievement, and we are indebted to Compaq Computers and the Getty Grant Program for making possible and sustaining this groundbreaking project.”
Making Sense of Modern Art employs a mix of interactive tools, a powerful relational database and an illuminating array of conceptual frameworks to provide visitors with context for the art in SFMOMA’s collection, elucidating key issues and relationships while encouraging multiple ways of interpreting a single work. Notes Peter Samis, SFMOMA associate curator of education and program manager for interactive educational technologies, “So much is missing when a person views a work of art in a gallery. The artist isn’t there, the studio isn’t there, the time in which the piece was created is most likely long gone. The powerful and flexible system we’ve been able to create at SFMOMA allows us to provide visitors in the galleries and online with the materials and means to re-create and explore these associations.”
Making Sense of Modern Art also sets new standards for ease of future growth and development of the program itself due to innovative interfaces created by Perimetre:Flux and a groundbreaking proprietary authoring tool developed by Idea Integration of San Francisco. This authoring tool uses a Flash Generator database not only to create individual screens, but also to assemble them into Flash presentations—collections of screens that can be published to a variety of platforms—an unprecedented use of this technology.
Art, Artists and Questions
Three approaches, corresponding to three different ways of seeing or investigating art, form the core of Making Sense of Modern Art. The Timeline interface contains images of over 50 works from the SFMOMA collection, from La Femme au chapeau (Woman with the Hat), 1905, by Henri Matisse to Unland: Audible in the Mouth the Orphan’s Tunic, Irreversible Witness, 1998, by Doris Salcedo. All the Timeline works can be compared by keywords or contrasted by selecting one work’s image on the screen and dragging it to another. The other two interfaces are inquiry-based—Artists in Context examines the art-making process and looks at questions that both first-time and seasoned Museum visitors might have when encountering specific works of art, while cross-disciplinary Themes take users on adventurous explorations of the most frequently asked questions about modern art. These approaches are being produced as modules that will be rolled out in phases.
Phase one, which launched today, features Artists in Contextunits called “Late 20th Century,” “Circa 1968,” and “Collection Case Study: Robert Rauschenberg.” It will also explore Themes such as “What is style?” Phase two, scheduled for Spring 2001, will add multiple Artists in Context units such as “Duchamp and His Legacy” and “Art in Post-Revolutionary Mexico,” as well as additional Themes, including “How (and why) is language used in art?”
This second phase will lead to a fully developed curriculum guide for middle and high school students based on Making Sense of Modern Art content. The entire curriculum will be available on CD-ROM, and units will be accessible in the e.school section of the SFMOMA Web site, enabling teachers throughout the United States to adapt components for specific classroom needs and levels of understanding. In the near future, many elements of the program may be tailored for a P.D.A. (personal digital assistant), wearable computers or other type of interactive hardware for visitor use in the galleries.
Making Sense of Modern Art‘s potent combination of digital technologies and creative vision is a culmination of five years of comprehensive research, publishing and teacher collaboration in the field of multimedia education by SFMOMA’s Education Department. As a result, the program’s self-paced format and generous variety of materials makes it appropriate for any Museum visitor seeking knowledge about a work of art on view, the general public curious about modern art, teachers and students from elementary school to university level and scholars of the history of art and the humanities.
Major support for Making Sense of Modern Art is provided by The Getty Grant Program, Compaq Computer Corporation in Silicon Valley, The Bernard Osher Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the Consulate General of Switzerland, San Francisco. In-kind support is provided by Idea Integration, Abbott Usability and The Charles Schwab Corporation Foundation.