MIDEA iPad Project Brings New Interpretation Strategies to Blanton Audiences

The Blanton is proud to unveil a new series of interactive iPad applications designed for both onsite and online visitors. These custom-built apps, installed on iPads located in the museum, offer expanded information about works of art currently on view in three of our permanent collection galleries. Made possible by funding from the Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA), the grant challenged us to consider tablets and their potential to support learning about art and artists.

Contemporary Art of the Susman Gallery

The iPad app in the Susman Gallery
The iPad in the Susman Gallery

The first iPad application is designed to enhance visitors’ understanding of large, abstract works by living artists. The home screen invites users to choose from selected works by contemporary artists Cildo Meireles, El Anatsui, Richard Long, and Yayoi Kusama. Many visitors are curious about these artists, about their thinking and process for creating such monumental works, and they look for guidance as they encounter them. For the tablet in Susman Gallery, we decided to feature the artists’ voices to offer direction and insight on how to consider these challenging works. For example, we unearthed a 2006 interview with Brazilian artist Meireles in which he speaks of his provocative installation —a Blanton favorite— Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals):

“for me, generically this is a kind of equation, almost mathematical equation connecting these three issues: power, spirituality, and tragedy. But I don’t mind if someone comes with a different approach to the piece.”

We hope that the video clips, biographical information, and guiding questions will encourage visitors to slow down and take another look at these important works of art, whose layers of meaning may not be immediately apparent.

European Collection and its Modern Connection

iPad in the European Gallery
iPad in the European Gallery

The second iPad offers visitors an opportunity to explore European still life, landscape, portrait, and narrative paintings. The button for Claude Vignon’s David with the Head of Goliath invites visitors to consider this 17th-century French painting. Vignon captures one brief moment in the biblical story of David, the Israelite shepherd, and his victory over the giant Philistine warrior, Goliath. To encourage closer consideration of the painting’s impact, we ask, “Note David’s facial expression. How might his complex emotional state have appealed to the average viewer?”

The surprise of this European Gallery app is the connections it makes to the museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art. After learning about each European painting, the tablet user can choose a button that features a related painting currently on view in the nearby contemporary galleries. Just one button click from David with the Head of Goliath, and visitors are reading about another history painting: David Alfaro Siqueiros’ 1946 painting, Cuauhtémoc. The noble subject here is Cuauhtémoc, an Aztec emperor legendary for his courageous stance against Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. The app asks us to ponder, “What clues does each artist include to indicate that these are heroic figures?”

Battle Casts of the Schweitzer Gallery

The iPad app in the Schweitzer Gallery
The iPad in the Schweitzer Gallery

The last iPad features a collection of more than seventy 19th-century plaster casts that has been a useful educational resource to University of Texas students studying classics and art history for nearly one hundred years. Professor William T. Battle collected this group of casts made directly from the ancient originals, choosing important examples of stylistic innovation, as well as portraits of famous leaders in the arts and politics—Euripides, Homer, Augustus, etc. For this app, we included audio recordings of UT classics professors reading ancient texts about historic and mythical characters found within the alcove of busts. Professor Lesley Dean-Jones lends her voice to Sappho’s ancient poem to the beautiful Greek goddess Aphrodite:

Shimmering,
iridescent, 
deathless Aphrodite,
child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, 
I beg you, 
do not crush my spirit with anguish, Lady

Curious visitors can engage with this evolving digital content inside the museum and beyond. The iPads in the galleries run custom applications, but interactive PDF versions are available for download through the Blanton website:

Contemporary Art of the Susman Gallery

European Collection and its Modern Connection

Battle Casts of the Schweitzer Gallery

For access to the interactive features, DOWNLOAD the PDF file and open it with your basic Adobe PDF Viewer.

– Mary Myers, Media Coordinator

One thought on “MIDEA iPad Project Brings New Interpretation Strategies to Blanton Audiences

  1. This is awesome.We have long known that Mary was a top photographer. Now we know that she is a top writer.Keep on writing Mary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *