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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Visions of the Great White South: Cambridge in Bonhams

Last week we went along for a tour of the Polar Museum's pop-up exhibition at Bonhams, Visions of the Great White South. Curated by Charlotte Connolly, the exhibition brings together art and images from the Scott Polar Expedition, alongside contemporary art commissioned by the Scott Polar Research Institute. We live tweeted the tour and now you can get a sneak peak here. The exhibition is only on until this Friday August 19th and we highly recommend a visit! 

From the bustle of Bond Street to the silence of the Pole

We love whenever regional museums get to showcase their collections in London, so of course we had to get down and see what the Polar Museum was doing on Bond Street! Maybe a strange choice of venue for a display of (not for sale) historic images- or so we thought.

Kicking of the tour with curator from - a research institute which also has a historic collection

Actually I didn't really know very much about the Polar Research Institute aside from that they had a museum. It's worth looking up the really interesting work they do - polar research not just a thing from the early twentieth century! 

Exhibition features work from the official artists of the Scott Polar Exhibition inspired by his work Broken Ice

Curator Charlotte Connolly was inspired by this image from the Terra Nova Expedition's official camera artist, Herbert Ponting. Ponting actually created a documentary about the expedition called the Great White Silence. 

Exhibition also includes beautiful water colours by artist and scientist EA Wilson

But Ponting wasn't alone in capturing the Pole- the exhibition also had along watercolour artist and scientist EA Wilson. This image features a very teeny tiny church on top of the outcropping built by the expedition team. 

Herbert Ponting - the camera artist on the expedition, captured everyday life for an explorer at Cape Evans

Ponting was really a 'camera artist' rather than a purely scientific photographer. He also took pictures of everyday life on the expedition, as well as stunning portraits. This one was taken just as this man returned from a push towards the Pole. 

Apparently Captain Scott became quite a good photographer on the expedition - with his work

In the eyes of Captain Scott, it was important that all members of the expedition were trained to be competent scientific photographers. Scott himself took to photography, and the exhibition features a number of images taken by him, including some very early panoramic photos. 

Wilson and Ponting always wanted an exhibition together of their photos and watercolours - finally realised

Exhibition artists Ponting and Wilson had always hoped for a joint exhibition of their works, but Wilson died on the fated journey back from the Pole alongside Scott. Perhaps due to the grief of Wilson's widow, the exhibition never happened. Now some of their works have finally been reunited. 

So why are we in ? Because they sponsor artist in residence who travels to Antarctica

Well the big reveal- we are at Bonhams because they sponsor an artist-in-residence at the Polar Institute! These lucky artists get to travel down to the Pole each year to capture the science of polar exploration through art. These paintings were actually done by Captain Scott's granddaughter!

A closing note on the epic landscapes of Emma Stibbon

The contemporary art portion of the exhibition is really stunning. I thought this was a photograph but its actually a drawing! Amazing to see how the Pole is still an inspiration for generations of artists. 

A fantastic mix of history, science and art we really can't recommend Visions of the Great White South enough! It's free to visit so just pop down to Bonhams anytime this week. There are even tours available this Friday:

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Ministry on the Move: Museum of the History of Science Oxford

We may be suckers for London’s incredible offer but sometimes we do leave the big smoke in search of some of the UK’s other museum treasures, it’s no lie most of our holidays are dominated by a museum loving search. My recent weekend away in Oxford was no different to any other, it was all about museums – and a bit of food and drink too.

Pitt Rivers Museum 
As you’ll be aware Oxford has an incredible amount of richness to offer when it comes to museums, the Ashmolean, The Museum of Oxford and the Bodleian provide a great cultural offer. Then of course there is the Pitt Rivers, as an anthropology graduate and arrow lover (early career projects) the Pitt Rivers often feels like the resting point for my soul, especially as its dark and jam packed with ethnography. Nonetheless, I’m not going to urge you guys to visit,  if you haven’t been already there is no doubt that there is a deep desire to go already and check out the collection of one of the founding fathers of Anthropology.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History
There’s also a lot of time to be had in the Oxford UniversityMuseum of Natural History,   featuring the exciting and expected dinosaur skeletons, some awesome taxidermy and on this occasion we became enthralled with the rock collection. The institution may have been slammed recently for its claim that exhibits are being destroyed due to the lack of UV filters on the glass roof but let’s just remember that this is a very valid and necessary point, increased temperature and sunlight can indeed destroy objects as our conservation friends will tell you so let’s support them in their application to Oxford City Council and increased the awareness of conservation of museum collections!

But today we want to talk to you about the Museum of the Historyof Science. It’s the world’s oldest purpose built museum (1683!) that hosts a stunning collection of objects relating to the history of Science.

Entering the museum is a bit of a maze, as you would suspect Oxford is a pretty busy tourist town and free museums occupy much of their time. However, I was initially pleased to see the front of house staff, under considerable strain from the crowds remain incredibly chipper and welcomed us into the space full of dazzling showcases of sundials, astrolabes and navigation equipment.

Lewis Carroll's wet plate photographic kit
The whole collection is fascinating and luxurious,  but it’s in the basement where the fun really begins. The main room is an ornate cavern with wooden showcases and pink backed cabinets filled with glorious scientific specimens including ornate drug jars telescopes and experimenting kits. It’s in this gallery that you too find objects belonging to Lewis Carroll and Einstein. In a showcase you’ll see a wooden box of vials and bottles – a wet plate photographic equipment box belonging to Lewis Carroll whose interest in photography included photographing family friend Alice Lidell the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. On the wall sits Einsteins blackboard (so iconic it has its own Wikipedia page!) the board of which was used when he was lecturing in Oxford, obviously their use is for short term documentation of presentations yet when already a celebrity Einstein came to oxford in 1931 it was preserved and acquired by the Museum of the History of Science Oxford and has become their most iconic objects.
Museum of the History of Science 

But one of my favourite things about this museum is that they recognise that they may be a little inaccessible for many and thus since 1995 have been creating virtual versions of their exhibitions for those who are unable to visit. Firstly, this is a bloody lovely thing to do and secondly, I think it’s a really great way to preserve temporary exhibitions for future research and reflection. I particularly like The Star Holder: Lives of the Astrolabe exhibition 

If you’re heading out west definitely stop by this great City for a day or a whole weekend and take  time to visit the great museums it offers. If you do get a chance to visit also head to Beerd for great pizzas and craft beer. But if not, don’t worry, be sure to check out the online exhibitions from the Museum of the History of Science


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Hipster Museums - London Sewing Machine Museum

There seems to be a lot to love about Tooting at the moment, it’s a South London area that is a real mash up of buildings from Victorian gentrification,  a diverse population and the odd nice coffee shop and burger bar. Not to mention it’s the constituency of the new mayor of London Sadiq Khan (yay!). We may have a bit to teach Sadiq Khan on London’s museums (check out this from Apollo) but Tooting has something extraordinary to show us when it comes to being the home of our next hipster museum – The London Sewing Machine Museum.

Found above the Wimbledon Sewing Machine company building the museum is only open in the first Saturday of every month for only three hours.  It’s a surprising treasure trove of a seemingly well documented collection of you’ve guessed it – sewing machines. The collection of over 600 machines fills two large rooms on the first floor of the building and  even spills out onto the staircase and entrance to the company.

 It’s an immediately satisfying experience for any museum  lover to see how much there is in this private collection -  especially as I was expecting it to a small cabinet in the back of a haberdashery! Each object is delicately labelled with the make and date and in the first room organised carefully onto open storage racks, visitors have to carefully negotiate those objects filling the floor space too but with an adults only approach it doesn’t seem to be much of a concern.

The second room is the where you’ll find the riches of the collection lavishly displayed in mahogany glass cabinets and a plush red carpet the collection feels just like the expectation of a private museum, there is even a reproduced shop front of the first building the Wimbledon Sewing Machine company owned. The rooms host little interpretation text so we were fortunate in this space to catch up with the enthusiastic tour guide and get the low down on the collection and its owner.

Owner of the sewing machine company and museum Ray Rushton became enthralled with the machines as a young boy helping out at his fathers new business. The story goes that he and his father would roam the streets for sewing machines and bring them into their shop for repair, as the years went by he collected the machines and built the company. Its not clear when  the museum opened to the public and although the establishment is a bit unknown it is proving very popular. The collection is like no other and there were even some visitors that had flown in from the US just to check it out.

The second space features the rare, popular and beautiful. One in particular was a wedding gift from Queen Victoria to her daughter, as luxurious as you can imagine the machine even has spools made of either. Next up is the sewing machine that fetched the most money at auction. The Thimmonier, a sewing machine like no other when it was released in 1829 in a small batch, it is thought to be one of the last surviving of the practical and widely used machines.  On loving display alongside it, is its documentation to certify its provenance – something you don’t see in your everyday museum.  There are even some charming pieces that show the influence of the sewing machine in this space, including some small automatons that do a basic chain stitch!

The machines are consistently beautiful and charming this museum is a real treasure trove not to be missed out on. Check it out on the first Saturday of every month and if you get a chance pop to the haberdashery next door. That’s pretty cute too.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Thoughts on museum blogging - be kind to yourself

Back in May we co-hosted Museum Hour with the wonderful Tincture of Museums – go check out her page it’s a museum loving feast with an eye to autism in museum.

One of the biggest concerns for those who wanted to start blogging was about finding the time to do so. In one sense this was reassuring as it meant that there were so many of you out there who have something to say about museums and want to get your voice heard. Yet  in another,  it was concerning to hear that museum lovers felt the need to put themselves under some pressure to get access to the museum blogging community, with the strains of temporary work, low paid and more competitive job market many are seeking to blog as a way to stand out from the crowd. In some respect blogging has been helpful to us but in others it has been a hindrance and why you’ll rarely hear me speak about my place of work. Blogging is ultimately meant to be an enjoyable and loveable experience.

We’re not going to lie, here at The Ministry we know how hard it is to keep on writing, finding content and putting it all together into a presentable format is time consuming. You’re probably aware that I work in a national museum as a sort of exhibition registrar and Kristin is studying for her PhD, so sometimes we do go a little bit quiet on the blog. It’s not because we’ve fallen out of love with doing so it’s just because sometimes our work life and personal life can be a bit more demanding that we had expected.

Museums are wonderful places that are often are static in their displays and in other times so fast moving that it’s hard to keep up. Working in South Kensington I often promise myself that I will visit that gallery/new exhibition across the road in my lunchbreak. Sometimes I do manage to venture out, other times I completely fail and realise I haven’t seen a new gallery in my own museum since it opened two years ago because it’s not on a route to a meeting room.

Then there’s the upkeep on social media, I do try to keep quite active personal profiles and keep up with what’s going on in the museum world. But often whole conversations about museum life go amiss on my timeline because I’ve been stuck in a two hour meeting or a cinema and suddenly we’re left feeling like I’m  the worst museum blogger because I haven’t engaged.

Sometimes it feels like the museum world is guilty of other museum enthusiasts a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out). There is now so much content and so much opinion that it can feel like an exhibition has opened, its content debated and closed within a heartbeat and you’ve missed it all. Branding on marketing posters rate permanent galleries as immediate ‘must sees’ and exhibitions posters now have stickered reminders of ‘last few weeks’. The countdown begins and suddenly you’re reminded more of what you haven’t seen than what you have.

Perhaps we’re not giving ourselves enough time to appreciate that museums are often little pockets where time can stand still. Often new permanent galleries are made to last upwards of thirty years, just because your friend or colleague has gone to comment on it doesn’t mean that you’re missing out. You’ll just be there when the crowds have calmed and it really can be that location of sanctuary that we often speak about.

As for social media, it’s a never ending stream and we’re never going to be able to catch every conversation, every debate and every single comment, but check in times like museum hour really help to focus attention. It’s great to spend the 8-9pm on a Monday engaging with the conversation and feeling like you are part of the community for the hour or a couple of minutes of it. Then there are great functions like storify that many bloggers use to capture the information that interests them into one stream. It’s a great way of reading up on the tweet s that has just disappeared into your timeline.

Perhaps this article is more of a reminder to be more gentle on myself. Sometimes it’s more important to leave the office at lunchtimes but sometimes you have to let life get in your way and miss out on the latest trend. I hope it can serve as guidance for us museum lovers and part time bloggers to not put too much pressure on ourselves and just take a moment. Blogging is there to enjoy and not to encapsulate at the end of the day most of us are not getting paid for it! Blogging is not a race to a the next opening, take some time to enjoy reading our fellows interpretations and thoughts or take advantage of museums online accessibility and when you have a moment pop in.
But remember when you are there physically or digitally, take it all in and enjoy.

Peace out  

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Guest Post: Alison Moulds on guest curating “Vaccination: Medicine and the masses”

Guest curating “Vaccination: Medicine and the masses” at the Hunterian Museum
Alison Moulds (PhD candidate, University of Oxford)

Alison Moulds at the opening of her collaborative exhibition
This April saw the launch of my first-ever exhibition; working alongside the Hunterian Museum (at the Royal College of Surgeons of England) I helped to guest curate a series of displays that explores the history of vaccination from its inception in the late eighteenth century to its ubiquity in the present day.

My colleague Sally Frampton, a Postdoctoral Research Assistant, and I became involved with the exhibition through our wider research project, Constructing Scientific Communities. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, it looks at citizen science in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, and is particularly interested in interrogating the public-professional divide in fields such as natural history and medicine. We’re partnered with other institutions, including the University of Leicester, Natural History Museum, Royal Society, and Royal College of Surgeons.

Given the focus of our project, when it came to creating the exhibition narrative, we were keen to look at the ways in which ordinary people have contributed to the history of vaccination. This included not only those who had a hand in its discovery – such as Benjamin Jesty, the Dorset farmer whose experiments with cowpox predated those of the GP Edward Jenner – but also those who protested against its usage. During the Victorian period vaccination was made compulsory through legislation, a landmark moment in the history of state public health, but also one which sparked widespread resistance. Our exhibition’s title “Vaccination: Medicine and the masses” signals the way in which we see vaccination as a key site for interactions between medical professionals, individual patients, and the wider public. Pro- and anti-vaccination activities were equally important to us, though we knew a medical museum needed to engage with the scientific aspect as well as the social history.

Cruikshank's The Cowpox Tragedy (1812), Courtesy of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons
As newbies to the world of curating, one of the most exciting aspects for us was undoubtedly tracking down the objects for display. We decided early on that we wanted a diverse range of material, from ephemera to medical instruments, portraiture to film. One of our first ports of call was the Hunterian Museum’s own catalogue. Here we found papers belonging to Jenner, including personal correspondence and a draft manuscript of his inquiry into experiments with cowpox (1798). The Hunterian’s in-house collection also contained one of the earliest and most iconic satirical images about vaccination – George Cruikshank’s The Cowpox Tragedy (1812). All these items ended up on display.
We then started exploring other collections, including the Jenner Museum in Gloucestershire, the Gordon Museum of Pathology at King’s College London, and the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. Among the gems we discovered was an incredibly affecting set of photographs of smallpox patients from the early twentieth century, which show the devastating effects of the disease. These were objects found ‘behind the scenes’ at the Jenner Museum that we reproduced for the exhibition. Following the installation, seeing the way in which all our objects interact with one another in the space has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the exhibition becoming a reality.

The process of display wasn’t without its hurdles, however. There were anxieties about how to share the reproduced patient photos, as well as human specimens, sympathetically. We didn’t want their inclusion to seem gratuitous, but neither did we want to adopt a sanitised approach. We were committed to showing people the reality of the disease, which is all too easy to forget now it has been eradicated. We also experienced an eleventh-hour emergency when we discovered we didn’t have a suitable screen available to show a wonderful public health information video we’d tracked down at the Wellcome Library. Getting one installed in time was a huge relief, especially since Surprise Attack (1951) has proved immensely popular with visitors. A narrative of mild peril, the film depicts a young girl who contracts smallpox and a town responding with a mass vaccination campaign co-ordinated by the local Medical Officer of Health. One of its biggest draws is probably the fact it features John Le Mesurier, better known for his later role as Sergeant Arthur Wilson in Dad’s Army.

Bringing together such a wide range of objects wasn’t always easy and perhaps one of the biggest difficulties for us was constructing a coherent and accessible narrative about the history of vaccination around them. We hoped to give some sense of the chronology of vaccination but also tease out overarching themes along the way. We wanted to tackle the objects on display but also gesture towards other aspects of the debate. As academics, brevity isn’t always our strong suit and we had to be rigorous about slicing and dicing our beloved words into something that would work well for museum audiences. We also struggled with creating object labels where provenance wasn’t always clear or where it was protracted and confused!

Since our academic research usually sees us poring over weighty tomes on our own, often in a dusty archive somewhere, the collaborative aspect of exhibition work was something we really enjoyed. It enabled us to work not only together, but also with the Museum’s in-house curator (Bruce Simpson) and curators elsewhere, as well as archivists and librarians. We were also committed to promoting wider public engagement around the exhibition, and worked with the Hunterian’s Learning and Events Officer, Hayley Kruger, to organise a “Museums at Night” opening, complete with anti-vaccination songs, a screening of public health information videos from across the twentieth century, and a talk from Dr Richard Barnett, medical historian and author of The Sick Rose. It was great to watch people exploring the space and to hear their thoughts on the exhibition. Rarely does our work have such an immediate and widespread impact.

Alison Moulds is a second-year DPhil English Literature student at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. Working as part of the AHRC-funded project “Constructing Scientific Communities”, and in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons of England, she is researching the construction of the doctor-patient relationship and the formation of professional identity in nineteenth-century medical writing, including fiction by doctors. She previously undertook her MA Victorian Studies part-time at Birkbeck College, University of London while working full-time in health policy and public affairs. She is Peer Review Editor for the Victorian Network journal. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @alison_moulds.

“Vaccination: Medicine and the masses” runs from Tuesday 19 April to Saturday 17 September at the Qvist Gallery, Hunterian Museum. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm. Free admission.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Hop onboard: a first visit to the London Transport Museum

I have always been a bit reluctant to visit the London Transport Museum because of the high cost of an access ticket and the inability to use a national museum pass to get through – perhaps tight of me but hey – museums wages!  So this is perhaps a bit of a different post for us, usually we only review big central London museums in terms of their current exhibitions. So what’s it like for a museum blogger to visit an institution for the first time?

For one, remember that here at The Ministry we tend to assess museums through museum worker eyes, looking at a few important factors – the unusual display of objects, their conservation and adherence to familiar guidelines, the accessibility of texts and what we find personally humorous or amusing. We’re going to moan about a few things that may seem trivial but as a museum professional could seem like the end of the world.

As I’ve said I have been reluctant to visit the London Transport Museum because of the cost of the ticket £17 with gift aid. As a museum worker almost £17 on a permanent display seems like quite a lot especially when I invest so much money into Transport for London already via my oyster card. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the ticket was a one off payment for the year, a model used by many museums focused around additional access for parents the ticket is scribed with your name and a date and ability to use as many times as you like in one year. Also kids go free.

First off a bit of history the London Transport Museum is situated in the Victorian home of the Covent Garden flower market, the infamous selling space for flowers, herbs, fruit and veg has been well documented in history through literature (My Fair Lady!) in 1980 the site became the home of the London Transport Museum. A collection formed on the preservation of two Victorian Horse buses and an early motorbus by the London General Ominous Company in the 1920’s, the collection grew and the museum had humble beginning in its display in a bus garage in Clapham in the sixties, before opening in 1973 as the London Transport Collection in Syon Park.

Opening in Covent Garden in 1980 and undergoing a major refurbishment in 2005-2007 the museum now operates as the London Transport Museum and its collection fills the site. Upon entering you are invited to clamor into a lift and ‘go back in time’ and excitedly visit and climb on board  the collection of large and small buses trams and steam trains and sit with a whole bunch of creepy mannequins to sense what early transport was like in London.

Quite a bit of the experience of this museum is about finding the unfamiliar in the familiar. The ability to read a history and step back in time by climbing on board a historic tube train does help to give Londoners a perspective on how much things have changed and perhaps it’s a clever device plan  to show us how lucky we are with our current situations. Interestingly the World First Underground gallery on level 1 text panels discuss how people found the underground to be uncomfortable and packed in – sounds familiar? Nonetheless it’s impressive and exciting to read on the history of the underground and fortunate to see and sit upon the only surviving engine from the 1860’s Metropolitan number 23.

The London Transport Museum has so much to offer in terms of discussing the history of London and can almost be a continuous seams of thought trundling through modern London. The social history of transport, the workers, the politics and all intertwined and the museum offers a glimpse into many of these areas.

My particular favourite area is the history of London transports iconic design. Before coming across the temporary exhibition on its history I noticed and loved the hang of the destination roller blinds that replaced the wooden destination boards in the 1920’s.

The temporary exhibition Designology explores the complete and integrated approach to design taken by TFL those Londoners and tourists have grown to love. Mind the Gap and other iconographies are instantly recognisable and widely reproduced on a range of souvenirs, influencing fashion and artists and vice versa. The consistent and strong design was spearheaded by Frank Pick who hugely influenced the clear branding that we see everyday. In 1916 he commissioned the calligrapher Edward Johnstone to design the typeface for the underground often referred to as ‘London’s handwriting’ and even now 100 years later is seen in an adapted from across signage, maps, leaflets, posters in the city.

Visiting the London Transport Museum for the first time I massively enjoyed the familiarity of the history, its low tech interactive displays and some of the high tech ones too - a working map of the underground is pretty astounding. £17 may be a bit steep for entry but it was certainly worth it for the few hours of enjoyment and I can go back again within the year! The London Transport Museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm nearest tube: Covent  Garden (but don't think you can handle the stairs!) 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

SMARTIFY the Great British Graphic Novel

A few weeks ago, to celebrate Museums at Night, we headed to Bloomsbury's Cartoon Museum (one of our favs) to check out the celebrations around their new exhibition: The Great British Graphic Novel. While art, culture, and a bar have been known to lure us just about anywhere, on this particular evening we had something more particular in mind. The exhibition is also playing a part of an important live run for a new museum-y app called Smartify. We were invited to chat with one of the founders and see what its all about. 

I think first of all we have to say that the Cartoon Museum's exhibition is definitely worth a visit on its own merit. Drawing a link between the classic works of 18th century cartoonist William Hogarth, through the graphic novels of the 1980s and 1990s and right up to the present with unpublished sneakpeaks at new works, the exhibition is a celebration of the British contribution to the graphic novel genre. Unlike the British Library's recent comic book exhibition (a spectacular effort which ended up being a tad overwhelming), the Cartoon Museum's rendition is punchy and finely tuned. From the Victorians to Neill Gaiman, the exhibition definitely makes its point about the importance of British artists to the world of the graphic novel. We particularly loved the new works by Birmingham based-artist Asia Alsafi, whose perspective as a Libyan immigrant to Britain, tackles present day issues around cultural integration with a Manga inspiration. 

Panel from an upcoming Alsafi graphic novel
But, what's even more exciting is that the exhibition is also the first live trial of a new art app called SMARTIFY (smart, art- get it?!). A combination of a virtual tour and instagram, the app is aiming to be a platform for a more personal, emotional interaction with art. We met with Anna Lowe, the Partner Development Manager, to tell us more. Anna is a museum education professional who, in her spare time, decided to work with a small team to develop a new piece of technology to change the way we interact in galleries and commercial art exhibitions. Makes you feel lazy right? The concept of the app is deceptively simple: using your phone camera, you scan the works and the app bring up information about it onto the screen. Having a play around in the Cartoon Museum, we can testify that the image recognition software is on point, and even works through glass cases.

Tank Girl, obvs. 
But acting as a digital tour isn't enough for Anna and the SMARTIFY team. The idea is that you can add images to a personal gallery (think like your Instagram) and then add your own comments and reflections. These will then be tagged to the images, so the next person along can read them and add their thoughts. So when you wave your phone in front of a piece of art, not only do you get the gallery-standard interpretation, you get to interact with other visitor's responses. The potential here is incredible. What about a guided tour from a celebrity? Anna is particularly keen on working with artists to record their perspectives on their work - something which is in progress for the Great British Graphic Novel. Well, with the living artists at least!

An new acquisition for the museum- an annotated draft from Alan Moore's Watchmen
We all talk a lot about technology and museums, and apps seem a natural way forward to try to do something different in the gallery. We have to say though, we haven't met too many people like Anna who are actually out there doing it, and have actually implemented it in an exhibition! Hats off to the Cartoon Museum for being so supportive. We hear that SMARTIFY is already talking to several other London galleries who might be interested in the technology.

The idea behind SMARTIFY raises some interesting museological questions. Who gets to speak for a work of art? Is it the museum (so when the app brings up the caption on your phone)? Or is it the artist? How about the exhibition curator? Or is it you? How would a gallery handle people leaving comments (digitally) all over their art? We love the democratic visitor-centred vision of SMARTIFY, although we are interested to see how the internal museum politics play out in different institutions. Personally, we think that the curator, the artist, the institution, the visitor, all play an important role in what we can learn from a work of art. How you collate and then explore that information is the tricky bit. But with their sleek platform and branding, we think SMARTIFY might be up to the task. 

So far the museum world has had a pretty start and stop approach to app. Sometimes a particular institution will get a little funding and develop one for their own collections. But (and stop me if I'm wrong) I've not seen anyone developing a platform that could be used across collections, from temporary to permanent exhibitions, and even commercial art. You might just soon be seeing the SMARTIFY logo in other London galleries so we recommend heading down to the Cartoon Museum and being one of the first to give it a go!

SMARTIFY is available for free download from the iTunes store. The Great British Graphic Novel is on at the Cartoon Museum until July 24th.