Combining Art and Digital Exhibition: What Lies Beneath and Mihtohseenionki

21 Feb

Two exhibits at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Eiteljorg, What Lies Beneath and Mihtohseenionki respectively, are strong examples of digital exhibition at each museum. When compared, they suggest a pervasive digital presence is most sustainable for temporary exhibits than permanent displays.

Digital tools are essential for IMA’s special exhibit What Lies Beneath. It teaches visitors how conservators can analyze every layer of paint in a painting using X-Ray and Infrared scanning technology. Since artists often reused canvases, looking at these layers can reveal more about an artist’s technique.[1] Visitors view three displayed paintings and explore their X-ray and Infrared scans on a touchpad to uncover more information about the painting. For example, scans of The Temptation of St. Anthony indicate a man’s portrait existed on the canvas first. Visitors learn further research will reveal more about the artist, the subject, and why this first painting was covered up.


The Temptation of St. Anthony and the touchpads showing the X-Ray and Infrared scans.


Visitors can slide between the scans and how the image appears to the naked eye on the touch pads, as shown above.

Because X-ray and infrared scanning reveal otherwise unknown information about a painting, it is a best practice at IMA.[2] Since this exhibit highlights something the museum already does, it is, in some respects, sustainable. However, for What Lies Beneath to become permanent, the IMA would need funds to consistently update the exhibit’s touchpads and their interfaces.

Since What Lies Beneath is a special exhibit, it isn’t curated on the IMA website, which only offers online curation for permanent displays. Special exhibits have simple pages for marketing purposes. This strategy is practical. Why build an elaborate page for a temporary exhibit? However, the IMA could easily enhance What Lies Beneath’s digital presence by including material from their existing webpage on conserving paintings.


Video of a Miami artist making moccassins from the computer stations. Note the traditional exhibit in the background

In contrast, digital tools in the Eiteljorg’s permanent exhibit Mihtoseenionki are only supplementary. Eiteljorg staff and local tribes co-created Mihtoseenionki to teach visitors about Native peoples in Indiana. Computer stations amongst traditional displays and analog interactives allow visitors to watch short videos of several present day native artists at work. Instead of just seeing moccasins on display, visitors can watch a Miami artisan make them and discuss the cultural significance of their art.



Visitors can also explore an interactive digital map of Indiana. Pins on the map highlight objects and stories that illustrate native people’s influence in Indiana since the 1600s. The map also shows the land tribes lost through treaties over time so visitors can visualize the impact white settlement had on native lands.


This page on the digital map highlights the land native tribes in Indiana lost to treaties from 1783-1846. 

The design of the digital interactives unsurprisingly feel a bit outdated: the exhibit is 15 years old. The exhibit still functions, however, because since the digital tools are supplementary. Luckily, the museum could spare expense to update the hardware to keep this small portion intact. The videos give distinct voice to native peoples and showcase their continued presence in Indiana.

Like the IMA, the Eitjorg’s website contains detailed online exhibits for only for permanent collections. Mihtohseenionki’s digital map serves as it’s online exhibit.[3] The Artists in Residence webpage also furthers Mihtohseenionki’s goal of highlighting current native artists. Each resident artist has a page that illustrates their work, as well as curated pages that explain the artist’s process and the history behind their craft.

[1] Art Institute Chicago, “Infrared Reflectography,” accessed

[2] Indianapolis Museum of Art, “Paintings,” accessed

[3] The digital map can be found here on the IMA website,


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