5 reasons reporters shouldn't be fawning over new Art Institute mobile app yet

The Art Institute of Chicago has launched a new mobile application and outfitted its galleries with WIFI. For those who go to world class art museums, like the Art Institute, hoping to remain tethered to, rather than liberated from, their technologies, this is surely something to Tweet and Facebook about.

Art Institute of Chicago iPhone app

Art Institute of Chicago iPhone app

That's also been the unified voice of news reports, which often read like the Art Institute's press release.

In "Art Institute First Museum in the World to Offer 'Indoor GPS App'" in DNAinfo, the application is credited with helping "make art more accessible to locals, out-of-towners and those who simply can't find their way around a Degas painting or a Rodin sculpture."

WGN-TV addressed the 200 sensors installed in the museum and the great expense association with that "indoor GPS" installation in such an old limestone building.

At WBEZ, a reporter tells about the irony of having trouble meeting up with one of the GPS creators. "And if mobile apps aren't your thing," she signs off, "don't worry, you can still just ask for directions."

I haven't had a chance to test the app on site yet, but a few things occur to me from playing around with it remotely:

  1. The links (to the Art Institute website?) associated with each of the works of art on the app don't seem to work.
  2. Although some of the descriptions of objects are as informative as one could expect for such short vignettes, there's a wide range of quality in the descriptions.
  3. Contrary to what some news reports are suggesting, the app doesn't include anywhere near the entire museum collection -- even if some of the larger categories and themes are addressed.
  4. Arguably, an app like this might make it easier for visitors to navigate the museum, but kitschy associations and thematic groups based on a small number of works might encourage superficial museum experiences.
  5. The navigation (on one's phone) within each tour is messy at best. Instead of being able to seamlessly scroll from one "slide" to another, one has to keep going back and then clicking again.

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    Menachem Wecker

    An art critic and painter, Menachem Wecker holds a master’s degree in art history from George Washington University and writes for "Houston Chronicle," as well as various religious publications. He is coauthor, with Brandon Withrow, of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, of the forthcoming book, "Consider No Evil: Two Faith Traditions and the Problem of Academic Freedom in Religious Higher Education" (Cascade Books), and is the former education reporter at "U.S. News and World Report."

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