This article is part of our latest Fine arts & exhibitions Special report on how art institutions help audiences discover new options for the future.


Twenty-two hundred years ago a master potter and his apprentice in a workshop in Athens created a vase depicting Hercules sacrificing a bull when the potter had a eureka moment – instead of painting the figures in the usual black, why not red . Red? Nobody had ever done that before.

“Something extraordinary happened to them that day that changed the course of history,” said Alexia Roider, creative director of Cedar media, an animation studio based in Cyprus. By applying various substances to the clay and controlling the temperature in the oven, the potter changed the colors and the effect the paint had on the vase. (The creator is believed to be a potter known as Andokides.)

“It is a very sophisticated pottery technique and the strong colors are preserved to this day,” said Ms. Roider. “The smoke in the oven gives you the black and the increase in temperature brings out the red. There are a lot of advanced technologies out there today, but they did it with fire and sticks. “

the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, holds a rare vase from this period, one of only around 55 worldwide, showing both black and red figure painting. It inspired the museum’s first animated film, How to Make an Athenian Vase, which was produced in collaboration with Zedem Media.

“We wanted to depict an epiphany to convey the profound change from black-figure vase painting to red-figure vase painting”, said George Scharoun, Head of Exhibition and Gallery Media at the museum, “almost like the shift from black and white to color”. Photography.”

The film is part of the museum’s effort to use technology in new ways to engage visitors more deeply and more memorably. In addition to animation, the museum will use augmented reality, computer graphics, 3D computer modeling and sound design to create innovative displays and interactive experiences. to accomplish five newly designed galleries in the George D. and Margo Behrakis wing of the Museum of Ancient Art.

“The museum uses the same tools they use in Hollywood films to provide new ways to understand and appreciate objects from the past,” said Scharoun.

The Museum of Fine Arts’ efforts to make art more accessible through technology are part of a larger trend, said Eric Longo, executive director of MCN, an association for museum professionals to exchange practices on new technologies (formerly called the Museum Computer Network).

“Most museums have grown their digital teams,” he said, and many museums now have tech labs and innovation incubators to develop and test new ideas.

Digital is an integral part, said Mr. Longo. “It’s part of the missions of museums.”

The remodeled galleries of the Museum of Fine Arts, which will open permanently on December 18, will receive architectural improvements such as raised ceilings, new windows for more natural light, and bespoke enclosures. They will show almost 550 works of art and provide a new home for their collection of Byzantine art, present gods and goddesses and explain the deep role of mythology in the everyday life of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Part of the purpose is to highlight the ingenuity of early Greek artists and to examine the development of portraiture during the Roman Empire. Rotating exhibitions juxtapose ancient art with works by 20th and 21st century artists to explore how they were inspired by classical culture. The American abstractionist Cy Twombly will be featured in the opening installation.

“It is one of the world’s best collections of Greek and Roman art,” said Phoebe Segal, one of the museum’s curators for Greek and Roman art.

Part of the work of a curator – the word comes from the Latin “to look after” – said Dr. Segal, “is about keeping the material relevant, making it clear to people why they should care.” Good design, wall text and increasingly digital media help with that, she says.

“We want to create the same connection in the museum when you are confronted with the original work of art as when you see a historical film,” said Scharoun. “I want visitors to see ancient Greece and Rome as real places, imagine the living, breathing people who made the objects and the world they lived in.”

In ancient times, statues were typically brightly painted or decorated with gilding and precious stones, but over time, colors dissolved or were stripped off. A 3D digital reconstruction of the Statue of Athena Parthenos can be experienced through augmented reality, which is available in the museum’s app, as well as in a video behind the scenes of the process in the gallery. The goal is to recreate what people in ancient Rome might have seen – in color.

“It allowed us to use a lot of pretty nerdy visual effects tools to visualize how Athena could have been painted, what she might have looked like,” says Evan Errol Fellers, director at Black math, a Boston-based production company and art studio that worked with the museum.

The museum conservation team examined trace pigments on the mostly white Athena statue using special light and photo techniques as well as chemical analysis. A digital model of the statue was then created from hundreds of photographs.

“It’s a technique called photogrammetry that uses triangulation to compare the similarities between photos and then reconstruct the 3-D geometry based on that information,” said Mr. Fellers. “Once we had that, our tools allowed us to digitally draw on the model and create photorealistic images using what is known as unbiased rendering and ‘paint’ the statue of Athena without touching the original.”

Some original Athena pieces were lost “with these visual effects and 3D modeling tools in our hands, we had the opportunity to recreate their missing elements,” said Mr Fellers.

“It’s really special to work on a real work of art, an old work of art that has now found its way into our studio for our artists to paint over again,” he said. “It’s that delicate balance between the playful use of these techniques and digital sculpting tools, but in a way that respects the time and the original sculptor. It adds a whole new appreciation for the intricacies of the artwork. “

Sound installations are another way to help museum visitors slow down and connect with the past, Scharoun said. A large format projection of footage captured earlier this year at an archaeological site will accompany a new 3D digital reconstruction of the sixth century Temple of Athena in Assos.

The “atmospheric piece” will use audio to conjure up the landscape that people lived in and immerse museum-goers in the sights and sounds of nature, he said.

“You get the same panoramic view of the sea that visitors to the ancient temple would have had through a kind of virtual window,” he said.

In a gallery, which is supposed to be reminiscent of an early Byzantine church, the visitors stand under a golden ceiling dome in front of a 3 meter high one Altarpiece surrounded by a soundtrack of sacred Byzantine music. A small touch panel enables you to select certain hymns.

“You have to stretch your imagination to appreciate the depths of time,” said Mr Scharoun. “And when you’ve done that, you can see the collection in a new way.”



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