A Digital Art Collection: LACMA and the Rijksmuseum

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There’s something neat about looking at your favorite work of art online. Services like the Google Art Project and Painting Portal allow users to view a multitude of works from around the world. You can zoom in way closer than you’d ever be allowed to be in a museum. You can return to the images online whenever you want, without paying an entry fee. And the latest trend we’re seeing, you can download the images for whatever you want. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is making waves with their new collections website – featuring 20,000 high resolution images of works from their permanent collection. Users can download the images to their desktop or save them into LACMA’s “My Gallery” system. They can search for images by subject, genre, or even by location in LACMA’s physical space. On their Tumblr, LACMA challenges their followers to be creative in their use of the images.

Dear Tumblr-verse,

Merry Christmas: we just gave you 20,000 high-resolution images, for free. Now we have just one question: what are you going to do with them?

There are certain stipulations that come with the collection of mostly public domain images, including the creator’s name and the source (LACMA, obviously). LACMA’s Amy Heibel expounds upon the reasoning behind releasing the collection in their blog. Undoubtedly, this is a major step forward in the democratization of art and images.

This trend is global: the Rijksmuseum of the Netherlands has a large collection on their website too. Similar to LACMA’s “My Gallery”, the Rijksstudio allows users to save their own curated collection of art, whether an entire piece or just a cropped section. Visitors can also order prints of the pieces directly from the collection site and download images for their own use. Users can share the products they create in their own Rijksstudio sets.

To learn more, the video below is in Dutch, but you can create your own Rijksstudio on their English version of the site.


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Overall, this is an interesting trend for museums – a type of institution whose biggest asset is usually their collection. It allows users to experience and engage in the art in a brand new way – and I do not think it will ever be something that competes the actual museum experience. Stairs and escalators may both take a person up, but they’re different experiences.

These digital collections capitalize on the need to collect. Ever notice how many people take pictures of art in museums? Humans feel a compulsion to "collect" the art on the walls in a museum, and with the advent of the camera phone, it's easier than ever. My Gallery and Rijksstudio allow visitors and non-visitors alike to collect better images than their iPhones would ever capture. And if visitors know they can find it online, they might put down their phones in the galleries and pay more attention to the art.


Image Credit: Still Life, Apple and Chestnuts, by John Francis, from www.lacma.org