Going Digital: Exhibits at the IMA and Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

22 Feb

Digital elements in exhibits allow museums to create dynamic, playful spaces and experiences for visitors. Two special exhibits, one at the IMA, What Lies Beneath and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design MuseumProcess Lab: Citizen Design incorporate digital tools that invite visitors to investigate and solve problems presented in the exhibit.

The IMA’s exhibit, What Lies Beneath allows visitors to learn about tools like infrared and x-ray scanning technology that art conservators use frequently to examine paintings. X-Rays and infrared technology can reveal far more than the human eye, which helps conservators learn about the artist’s process, root out forgeries, and assess the condition of the painting [1]. Visitors assume the role of a conservator by investigating a painting on display  by using the infrared camera to determine if it is original or fake based on information provided. Three additional touch pads also allow visitors to explore hidden layers of three paintings with infrared and x-ray technology. The participatory nature of What Lies Beneath creates a opportune learning space where visitors test their new knowledge within the boundaries of a thoughtfully playful environment [2].


 Step 3. Discover. A infrared camera allows visitors to uncover hidden layers of a painting.

While the exhibit space for What Lies Beneath includes participatory elements, the corresponding online exhibition remains sparse. The webpage provides basic information about the special exhibit and a short video explaining the usefulness of infrared and x-ray technology for art conservators. Since What Lies Beneath is a special exhibit funded by the NEA,  the IMA is mindful to keep the online curation simply as an advertising platform.

Over winter break, I had the opportunity to go to the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (CHSDM)  in New York City. CHSDM is well known for its cutting edge use of technology, catalogs all objects, designers, and colors from the museum on a steady accessible website [3]. One of their exhibits, Process Lab: Citizen Designutilizes digital technology to record and compare visitors design processes created during their experience. In this exhibit, visitors are asked to think about what they and their community care about, evaluate the issues, and propose ways that they can make a difference. Process Lab: Citizen Design mimics the processes designers face when they collaborate with a community to address a problem, and allow visitors to think critically about how they can facilitate change in their communities.

Digital Visualization .jpg

Design “Pen” used to record visitor’s data. Courtesy of Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian  Design Museum

Once the visitor’s design plan is complete, they can use a special digital “pen” to record their choices and upload them onto a station. By downloading their selections, visitors can see their results in a data visualization that compares their choices to other visitors’ designs.  The Process Lab: Citizen Design also allows visitors to access their design plans on an online account after they leave the museum, giving them the opportunity to compare their selections as the lab collects and updates visitors’ data daily [4].


My data visualization recorded during my visit. 

Digital elements ties both of these exhibits together. Touch screens are used for exploration and discovery at the IMA, and a smart “pen” collects and sharing personalized experiences at the CHSDM. While both exhibits create engaging activities for visitors, What Lies Beneath digital presence primarily remains on-site and whereas The Process Lab  encourages visitors to return to their experiences online.


[1]. “What Lies Beneath | Indianapolis Museum of Art,” accessed February 21, 2017, http://www.imamuseum.org/exhibition/what-lies-beneath.

[2]. Scott Nicholson, “Microsoft Word – Using Transformative Play for Meaningful Gamification.docx – mp2012_submission_79.pdf,” accessed February 21, 2017, http://meaningfulplay.msu.edu/proceedings2012/mp2012_submission_79.pdf

[3]. Robinson Meyer, “The Museum of the Future Is Here,” The Atlantic, January 25, 2015, accessed February 21,2017 https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/how-to-build-the-museum-of-the-future/384646/ 

[4]. “Installation and Data Visualization, Process Lab: Citizen Design, 2016-2017,” accessed February 21, 2017. https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/1108712197/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: