Thursday, 2 July 2009

Baroque: The First Global Style: online critique

Baroque: Religious Processions from Holy Week in Seville from Victoria and Albert Museum
on Vimeo.

Baroque: The First Global Style - Sacred Spaces - Secular Spaces

"Baroque was the first style to have a significant worldwide impact. It spread from Italy and France to the rest of Europe. Then it travelled to Africa, Asia, and South and Central America via the colonies, missions and trading posts of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and other Europeans. The style was disseminated through the worldwide trade in fashionable goods, through prints, and also by travelling craftsmen, artists and architects.

Chinese carvers worked in Indonesia, French silversmiths in Sweden, Italian furniture makers in France. Sculpture was sent from the Philippines to Mexico as well as Spain. London-made chairs went all over Europe and across the Atlantic. The French royal workshops turned out luxury products in the official French style that were both desired and imitated by fashionable society across Europe. But Baroque also changed as it crossed the world, adapting to new needs and local tastes."

extract from opening to online exhibition

Victoria and Albert Museum - Baroque 1620 - 1800
I am currently looking for great examples of collection based web sites, and have found one with this online exhibition - Baroque 1620 - 1800 - from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The proposition
I'm looking just for fun - but also as a continuation of a research trail to test the proposition that, in terms of generic online practice, museum and gallery web sites are, in comparison to their library counterparts, a bit further down the track in terms of usability - flair and general front end digital literacy?

The Museum and gallery digital literacy
At the heart of this online research trail is of course the easy recognition that museums and galleries make a better job of exhibitions precisely because this is a part of their core business. Moreover, the art and practice of interpretation is also a core aspect of the whole museum and gallery visitor experience.

Collection Bushels
Libraries, in contrast, despite having some great exhibition spaces and practice, tend to hide their light inside the collection space - and as we all know big collection spaces make for excellent bushels. In short, having sorted out the backroom - especially around search and discovery tools - they all too often pause for a tea break.

The budget thing
That said, it's also true that, to some extent at least, the museum and gallery sector have more budget for exhibitions, and so, by definition, have more room for innovation and experiment in the online space.

Looking for 'best practice'
So, are there are some really great examples of first class web work which don't seem to have ploughed through a bucket of money? Also, are there good examples of on- screen parsimony which also shows good use of the basics - editorial text with great images and compelling music and video?

The V/A micro site on the Baroque
I think all four of these elements are on view in the V/A, online exhibition to Baroque - The first global style.

The text is open and accessible, and mercifully free of academic art jargon. The images to the objects are just stunning in both quality and presentation, and the music is so good, it's just on the edge of being too much. I mean does the BMR know they are giving mobile phone downloads for free!

The Video[s]

But its the video that really takes the biscuit. They are using Vimeo as the platform. This gives them an instant upload allowance - and immediate access to embed and distribution tools.

Each of them puts the the objects and the art into the life and practice that they were born for - e.g. Latin mass - procession, etc. The featured one above is quite stunning , and a brilliant example of how the Baroque is still a living force in some parts of the world.

Putting it all together - a great example of how to put on a great online show with the budget clearly on screen for all to see!


Postscript: An online history of the V/A?
And just in case I'm accused of being too fluffy and uncritical here - can I also point out - ask - plead - with the Victoria and Albert to put up a better online show on their own history!

The Children's Book- A.S. Byatt
I have just finished reading the Children' s Book by AS Byatt. It's set between 1895 and the 1st World War and the immediate aftermath.

One of the families she invents for the novel live in the Museum courtesy of the fathers job. Part of the plot - much of it based on typical historical Byatt accuracy - concerns the upheaval inside the V/A when it went through some major alterations in the early part of the 20th century. It would be great to have a an online story of the Museum and its ongoing development. Context, in short, is all!

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