Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Let Your Fingers Do the Walking at the Walker

I've been curious (if dubious) about the newfangled museum audioguides that can be accessed through one's own cell phone. On my recent visit to the always interesting and provocative Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, I finally dialed-a-painting from the museum's own version of the Yellow Pages (actually printed on a yellow page), called "Art on Call." You call the main number for the service, enter a four-digit code for your chosen work, then listen to the commentary.

It was a mixed experience: I had recently talked to Ellsworth Kelly in person, at the opening of the expanded High Museum in Atlanta, so I decided to beam up his "Red Yellow Blue III." A Walker curator revealed a little-known aspect of Kelly's oeuvre: "He takes an enormous amount of photographs"---open barn doors, for example. His paintings, often vibrant monochrome panels, are "always informed by something real, something that is seen," such as the photographic images, the curator confided.

Interesting insights, but even though 100 seconds doesn't sound like a long time to stand in front of a painting, I felt itchy to move on before the glitchy narration had finished---glitchy because my cell phone, which usually has good reception, kept cutting out. There's still something to be said for in-house random-access guides that always(?) work. The phone-based information ought, perhaps, to be layered---a short introduction, with the option to access other levels of information about a work, by pressing another number.

Another serious drawback to this wireless wisdom is the necessity to keep dialing up, every time that you want to access another work. Once the frequent use of cell phones is permitted in the galleries, the temptation to make and answer calls to people, not just paintings, becomes harder to resist.

Meanwhile, you too can call upon "Art on Call": Just go to this website, then click on what you want to hear. In many cases, the commentary is by the artists themselves. If you click on the thumbnail of a work, you get a larger image, more detailed information, and thumbnails of related works in the collection.


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