Modern technology meets ancient art
As MU's Museum of Art and Archaeology enters its sixth decade, it plans to combine modern technology with centuries-old art.
By HENRI WHITEHEAD
COLUMBIA — Imagine walking through the Saul and Gladys Weinberg Gallery of Ancient Art in the Museum of Art and Archaeology. As you examine a Greek amphora from 460 B.C., a guide informs you that the artist was a follower of the Berlin Painter. After making your way past the museum’s collection of ancient Greek and Roman coins, you stop at the mid-16th century painting “Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus.” The guide explains how the artist was a Mannerist and how a faint image of an arm in its background reflects a change in the original composition.
Now imagine that you are alone in the museum and the guided tour that you are following is coming from your personal MP3 player.
Museum of Art and Archaeology Director Alex Barker said this scenario could be possible in the near future. The museum is working on using podcasts as a cost-efficient alternative to the traditional audio tours found in larger museums. The podcasts will feature tours of all of the museum’s exhibits and will be available for visitors to download onto their personal MP3 players. Members of the community will be encouraged to create their own podcast tour by using one of the many free programs available on the Internet, such as Gcast or Clickcaster. Barker said community participation in creating podcasts could create a more diverse experience.
“Some people are intimidated by art museums, and they shouldn’t be,” Barker said. “Everyone should have an opinion about art.”
Mary Pixley, the museum’s associate curator of European and American art, said she hopes the podcasts will be available later this year.
Even with the podcast tours on their way, the museum has already taken other steps to modernize. Its Web site, maa.missouri.edu, expanded to feature online exhibits and added a staff blog that aims to create conversation with the community. The online exhibits are part of the museum’s plan to make every piece of art available to view on its Web site. However, Barker said the museum still has some obstacles to overcome.
“No one has figured out a way to make the art easily searchable in a database,” Barker said. “There are too many different ways someone can describe a work of art.”
Ever since the Museum of Art and Archaeology opened 51 years ago, it has contributed to the cultural life of mid-Missouri by providing a growing assortment of unique art and artifacts. During the past five decades the museum’s collection has grown from 37 pieces to around 14,000. Pieces range in age from 250,000 B.C. to works that were created last year.
But the museum had growing pains.
During the Depression, the Museum of Classical Art and Archaeology and the Department of Art and Archaeology were eliminated. The museum was re-established in 1957.
At first the museum was called the Study Collections of Art History and Archaeology; in 1961 it became the Museum of Art and Archaeology. In that same year, it received paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, which resulted in the opening of the museum’s first gallery in the university library building. In 1976, the museum moved to Pickard Hall where the collection became accessible to the public.
“We really want to make the museum more of a complete space by creating diversity in our exhibits,” Pixley said. “That way we connect with students and the greater community.”
The museum does not have enough space to display all of its pieces. The art that is not displayed at the museum is stored in one of the museum’s three storage buildings scattered throughout Columbia. The collection has become diverse but the growth has made the lack of space more pressing.
“Right now we use changing exhibitions to occasionally show pieces that deserve to always be on display,” Barker said. “With more space, we could display our own collections more fully and use special exhibitions to bring traveling shows from around the world to mid-Missouri.”
Although most of the museum’s pieces are in storage, Pixley said anyone can make an appointment to view any piece of the museum’s collection.
“The museum always welcomes research and scholarship,” Pixley said. “We welcome both students and people in the larger community.”
Limited space has not prevented the museum from acquiring pieces of art. It uses endowment funds to buy art and grant funds to support public programs. Even with grants, Pixley said that the community is still important to the museum’s survival.
“We are always in need of donations,” Pixley said. “It’s important for the community to understand that we rely on their support in order to provide them with unique experiences.
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