The most famous painting in the Louvre in Paris, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, is seen by more than 20,000 visitors every day. It is housed in a protective glass case and each visitor gets to stand in front of the painting for, on average, just 30 seconds. The work is currently on display in the museum’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition (until 24 February), for which a virtual reality (VR) experience has been developed, allowing visitors to spend a little longer with the painting.
The VR experience, the Louvre says, enables visitors to get closer to the painting, immersing them in Da Vinci’s world, explaining how the artwork was created and discovering how it has changed over 500 years. It brings together decades of conservation research and data, too. I was delighted to see that an extended home version of the VR experience was available. I love it when museums think about those who are not able to visit.
So I sat down with my various gadgets – an Android phone, a Google Cardboard and a cheap but effective VR headset and began to follow the instructions. It felt like I was off to Paris but without the long journey.
Sadly, it was not to be. The experience appeared to require a particular headset (which costs upwards of £600) and mine wasn’t going to cut it. I went round in circles from one page that said I could just use my Android device to one that insisted I had to have a different headset. Eventually I gave up. What a shame that the Louvre has taken the time to produce something that sounds so cool but that can only be accessed by some pretty inaccessible tech.
Perhaps the home version was an after-thought – a kind of “we may as well make it available” idea that was tagged on at the end of a meeting. It tells me that museums still treat VR as an experience for those who can visit in person so it doesn’t really do anything to increase access. To use technology in museums without thinking about how it might open up a collection to the world seems like a massive missed opportunity.
YouTube channel | Science Museum, London The Science Museum’s YouTube channel has been around for a few years, but it has been upping its video output recently. It’s a varied channel, but what strikes me is how little of it is purely promotional. Yes, there is a highlights tour of the new Wellcome Galleries – a three-minute overview to encourage visitors to come to the museum (and viewed 5,000 times in one month). But the majority of the videos seem to have been created purely to inform and inspire.
I’ve found myself sending links to my astronomy-obsessed 15-year-old son, who was bemused that I was encouraging him to spend more time on YouTube. Most of the videos are around two or three minutes long, but some, which feel like they have been lifted straight from the museum’s galleries, last around six or seven minutes. I like the fact that content produced for the gallery is also finding a life on the web.
A six-minute video on Cern’s Large Hadron Collider has been viewed 80,000 times in six months and forms part of a Science Docs section. A video of Buzz Aldrin chatting about the moon landing (and posted around the time of the lunar landings anniversary last July) has had, not surprisingly, half a million views. If these numbers tell us anything, it’s that there is an audience for this kind of content.
My favourites are the delightful Stories from the Stores. The museum has produced 13 of these simple Q&A sessions with curators, and although they aren’t getting the YouTube viewing figures of Aldrin, they provide useful day-to-day content for the museum’s website and social media channels. RE
Blog | V&A Dundee
Amid the cacophony of digital bells and whistles I sometimes forget that the humble blog is still such a perfect way for museums to showcase what they are all about.
Occasionally you stumble on one that not only tells you about the stuff in the venue, but also about the place and the people who work there, giving visitors the vibe of the museum before they have even visited.
V&A Dundee’s blog does exactly that. I love all the voices that give you different perspectives on a range of subjects. There isn’t an overarching authoritative tone and there seems to be a lightness of touch in the editing, too, which allows the voices to feel like they are part of the organisation, but still come across like a personal reflection rather than a party line.
There are no long-form pieces on the blog (I tend to run a mile from them) and therefore I have returned often, dipped my toe in and discovered something new and interesting each time. RE