How museums are adapting to 'selfie culture'

  • 2015-12-03
  • The New York Times

The museum of the future knows exactly where you are and maybe even what you want.

Enabled by tiny Bluetooth beacons positioned strategically around its galleries and grounds, the museum of the future sends a push notification to your phone urging a visit to the nearby Jackson Pollock exhibit it thinks you'll like, based on the Willem de Kooning and Lee Krasner art you browsed in the online collection. The museum of the future functions as seamlessly as an Apple store, makes recommendations like Amazon, speaks in hashtags, loves Tumblr and is ready for its selfie.

The museum of the future hasn't quite arrived in Los Angeles yet, but institutions including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the new Broad, the Autry National Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens are quietly updating and innovating this kind of technology to engage with their audiences.

However, as Newton's third law states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, for every app-loving, gadget-embracing museum curator or visitor there is a solitude-craving, analog enthusiast who feels that pixelated screens and interactive devices interfere with the very soul of the museum-going experience. Their goal is to stand quietly in front of art and ponder its significance and place in history — without technological intrusion.

Regardless of the tension between the two philosophies, everyone agrees: Museums are changing, perhaps at the fastest clip since the introduction of rudimentary audio guides in the 1950s. The institutions are updating themselves in hopes of staying relevant in a world where video killed the radio star — and where Snapchat killed the Facebook meme.