Augmenting Masterpieces

Augmenting Masterpieces

Augmenting Masterpieces

Interfaces between the Physical and Digital Collection of the Rijksmuseum

The traditional exhibition setting is a spatial viewing arrangement requiring distance, linear sequences and mobile spectators moving from object to object.  As a result of this static environment, there are many details that the visitor easily overlooks. Especially since the multiple layers of the artworks can only be accessed through intimate acts that are traditionally forbidden: touching, zooming, tapping, rearranging. Digitising the collection – in 2D photographic archives, databases of information and 3D renderings – offers new ways to bypass these restrictions. For that reason, it has become a common practice to augment museums and exhibitions with virtual counterparts and extensions.

Developing these kinds of interfaces, however, is both a technological and theoretical challenge. How can digital images be integrated into the museum setting? The design challenge of developing new interfaces poses an urgent theoretical question: how do the cultural techniques of intimate gestures – touch, zooming, tapping, rearranging – affect the experience of visiting the Rijksmuseum? What affordances of the digital can be employed to augment the original masterpieces? The design firms working on the back-end and front-end development of the website and multimedia tour for Rijksmuseum encounter these questions in practice on a daily basis.

This research project aims at creating a theoretical framework, formulating existing and desired features, testing user experience, developing prototypes of new interfaces for virtual and physical interaction in the museum context and creating a final product to be used for augmented museum tours.

How it all started

This project is a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam (Jan Hein Hoogstad, assistant professor Cultural Analysis) and the Rijksmuseum. I initiated the project while I was coordinator of the Media Lab at the Rijksmuseum. We hired Johanna Barnbeck as an embedded researcher and she spent a year focusing on how to create a tool for the ‘cultural tourists’. At the end of the project, I was no longer working at the Rijksmuseum.

The outcome was an app for storytelling, that can be found here on github.


The project website Augmenting Masterpieces.

An interview with Shailoh about the project.