Best of 2011 – CLICK
While the web has become a constant presence in most of our lives, and our principle means of communication and interaction, the vast majority of online content is uninspired. There are always, however, a few sites that offer unique experiences and the opportunity to view familiar things in new ways. As the year comes to an end we thought this was an opportune moment to highlight a few of our favourite new arts and culture websites of 2011.
Google Art Project, launched in February, may be an obvious choice, but its technological innovations and enviable museum partnerships, not to mention the way it polarized the art community, make it impossible to ignore. This website, taking advantage of both Google street-view and gigapixel photo capturing technologies, allows visitors to navigate, with 360 degree views, the galleries of the 17 participating museums, including such notable institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery, London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Each museum has selected one work to be photographed at such a high resolution that you can zoom in and literally see every brush stroke and faint detail of the painting, an experience that is not possible when visiting the physical museum. While many may charge that no reproduction can possibly replicate the experience of viewing works of art in person, the Google Art Project has made some of the best examples of Western art accessible to anyone with a computer, and that is truly a tremendous accomplishment.The Museum of Modern Art in New York has a long history of creating microsites to accompany their exhibitions, a practice that is becoming more common in the museum world. For their latest design exhibition, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects, they avoided the standard informational “brochure” style microsite and instead created something that in both design and organization perfectly captures the theme of the show. The pixelated, retro aesthetic and unconventional organization of the space of the screen, not to mention the cool data visualizations and tagging structure, collectively create a very compelling user experience. The Talk to Me website is more than just a record of the exhibition, it creates new ways of engaging with the material and in a sense functions like another work in the show.
While the Adobe Museum of Digital Media, a museum that exists solely on the web and presents exhibitions with content that was created specifically for presentation in this context, launched in the fall of 2010, its curatorial and exhibition program was solidified this year. The ability to present exhibitions that are immune from the typical constraints faced by curators—space, technology, even gravity—affords a lot of freedom and flexibility to the artists who design works to be exhibited in this space. This year’s highlights include a digital version of a real project in Okinawa, created by artist Mariko Mori, that transports visitors to this Japanese island and InForm: Turning Data into Meaning, curated by Wired’s executive editor, that highlights innovative visualization techniques used to examine how we interact in the digital world. The best part of this museum is that it is always open, and its comprehensive exhibition archive means that every show is indefinitely on view.
With a plethora of pop-ups and slideshows, and a seemingly endless number of content blocks, the recently launched redesign of the Walker Art Center’s website may seem overwhelming upon an initial glance. But don’t be put off. With words like “game changer” and “paradigm shift” being thrown around to describe the Walker’s new site, launched earlier this month, it is more than worth a second look. In what is largely an unprecedented move for a major museum, the Walker has transformed its website into an “information hub,” a curated selection of “stories” that drive the organization of the site. Understanding their audience and reach to be global, the site is designed to attract anyone who is interested in contemporary art and culture, regardless if they intend to visit the museum. It will be interesting to see if other museums follow suit and create websites that are organized to promote critical, rather than marketing, interests.
Small Demons, a new startup launched earlier this month by former execs at Yahoo! and Myspace and currently in beta testing, caught our attention with its slick design and innovative concept. Small Demons is a social space where books, both great works of literature and popular fiction, can be unraveled, dissected and broken up into their component parts. Every movie, song, object, city, and hotel mentioned, visited or experienced in a novel – both fictional and real – are catalogued and listed. Inviting visitors to enter what they have termed a “storyverse” Small Demons is attempting to create meaningful connections between literature throughout history, and between our real lives and the books we read.