Museums and the Web

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Monet Sketchbooks Interactive Database


Conference: 
MW2008
Institution: 
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
Designer: 
Developed and produced by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, under the guidance of Jim Ganz, Curtis Scott and David Keiser-Clark. Full credits are available on the homepage.
Why: 

The Monet Sketchbooks interactive program was developed in conjunction with the exhibition 'The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings.' The exhibition sought to underscore the lifelong importance of drawing in the career of one of the world?s most famous painters, and the artist?s sketchbooks formed a critical piece of that argument. However, the physical limitations of a museum display meant that only a handful of the 300+ pages in the sketchbooks could be viewed at any one time. The Monet Sketchbooks interactive program provided users with the ability to browse or search (in English and French) the complete contents of all eight of Monet?s extant sketchbooks. The sketchbooks themselves are fragile and may only be viewed or studied by visitors to the Mus?e Marmottan Monet in Paris, which owns all eight of the sketchbooks. The only published documentation of the sketchbook pages consists of small thumbnail black-and-white photographs and is now out of print. Early in the development of this program, the project team committed itself to creating a program that would have lasting impact beyond the close of the exhibition. This decision to develop a program that was both part of a temporary exhibition and would also become a permanent online aid to scholarly research meant that it would need to serve two related but very different audiences: visitors to the exhibition, whose knowledge of the subject matter (and of computers) would vary considerably; and scholars of Impressionism, who would want detailed information and functionality in the program. The decision to develop a single program that could serve both audiences impacted later decisions about presentation, navigation, and graphics. Monet used his sketchbooks in a somewhat arbitrary manner, filling the pages with seemingly little regard for chronology, thematic organization, or orientation of the pages. He frequently drew across the binding, occasionally made multiple studies on the same sheet or spread, and did not recognize a primary orientation of the pages: to him the sketchbooks had no front or back, no up or down. For these reasons, it was decided that the interactive program should include the ability to search all of the sketchbooks simultaneously (to aid in finding related works in different sketchbooks), as well as to enlarge and rotate the pages. A ?Note to User? on the homepage details some of the reasons behind certain features and offers additional information about obtaining print-quality copies of the images. In order to minimize failed searches or confusion about translations, titles of works, spelling, and the like, it was decided to employ drop-down menus for searching. This feature also allowed us to forgo the use of keyboards in the exhibition kiosks, thus insuring that users could not exit the program. Visually, the Monet Sketchbooks interactive program utilized the same graphic treatment as the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue and website, further underscoring its integral role in the exhibition. The Monet Sketchbooks program consists of 330 images (from eight sketchbooks) displayed using Flash and supported by a ColdFusion server and an SQL server database. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION At the Clark, the Monet Sketchbooks program was installed on six computer kiosks in a gallery midway through the exhibition (another two kiosks were installed in a ?reading room? near the end of the exhibition). Recognizing that some visitors might be intimidated by an interactive program, small instructional panels were mounted on the wall next to each kiosk. For visitors who chose not to use the program, a six-minute video loop featuring highlights of the sketchbooks was presented on a large-format plasma screen installed above the kiosks. This video loop also served to entice visitors to explore the computer program. The Monet Sketchbooks interactive program was also featured as part of the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (none of the actual sketchbooks were lent to the London venue, so the program functioned as the visitors? primary experience of the sketchbooks). It is currently accessible through the websites of the Clark and the Mus?e Marmottan Monet in Paris. Try it: We recommend you try this self-guided tour of the Monet Sketchbooks Interactive Database: http://www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/monet/sketchbooks/tour.cfm

Nominated By: 
Year: 
2008