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Digital Interaction Makes Art Accessible at The Getty Museum

Drew Skau

published on June 18, 2014 in Design

A typical visit to an art museum involves looking at art from a “safe” distance. Works of art are often behind ropes or even in glass cases. It is impossible to interact with the art, explore it, or even get an up-close look. This is to protect the art and make sure that it lasts as long as possible.

The decorative arts collection at The J. Paul Getty Museum is no exception: visitors cannot touch or interact with the art directly. But rather than shrugging it off as a reality for today’s museum goers, the Getty Center has found a solution that advances the art with a whole new layer of experience in its The Life of Art exhibit.


In the exhibit, four objects from the Museum’s decorative arts collection are featured in an interactive presentation – an iOS and web app – that allows visitors to explore the pieces digitally.

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This has the added benefit of being a great marketing tool to bring people into the museum. Creating digital content that shows off a little bit of what people can experience in person is a good strategy for teasing them into the full experience.


In the museum itself, the exhibit uses iPads running the iOS app set up as kiosks. This allows visitors to see the pieces in person while learning some extra information about them from the app. Using the app for double duty is a great way to reuse that digital content.

Interactive data visualizations and applications are great at taking the intangible and making it almost tangible. They bring data out of the abstract and into a space we can see and visualize. These same principles can be applied to tangible things that we cannot touch. The Getty Center has taken advantage of these properties to make fragile antique works of art accessible to the public, along with bringing their stories to life.

Drew Skau is Visualization Architect at Visually and a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC with an undergraduate degree in Architecture. You can follow him on Twitter @SeeingStructure