Last week at the British Film Institute in London's Southbank, the Museum of London announced it would be the first organisation to make its collections available on Artful, the first multi-collection iPhone application. Only last month, Google announced that it would provide images online from the National Museum of Iraq - another one of a growing number of museums digitising their content. The National Gallery and Royal Academy in London, the Prado in Madrid, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Louvre in Paris are just some of the high-profile institutions that allow users to access images, commentary, products or tickets online and from their phones.
However, the Artful technology takes this digital revolution in culture a step further, allowing art lovers to explore and share images from many different museum collections in one application. From spring 2010, Artful will be available from iTunes, and for £1.49 (Dh8.9) you can add the Museum of London collection image package. This will provide a bundle of information about the Museum's collection including images and expert commentary on its artworks. Over time, other museum packages, yet to be announced, will also be available. This will allow enthusiasts to compare pieces from many different galleries.
Last year almost 162 million smart phones were sold and two billion applications were downloaded from the iTunes site in the first 15 months that it was available. This demonstrates the popularity of new technology and the thirst among users to acquire and share content. In recent years, museums and galleries have made a huge effort to capture new audiences. Museums are turning to internet technologies and social-networking sites to widen their audience - making images, products and tickets accessible online and from mobiles.
This approach has already proved successful. In June, the National Gallery was the first ever museum to make its paintings accessible through a downloadable iPhone application. The Pentimento application, called Love Art, has been downloaded almost 300,000 times. The download features 250 paintings from masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh as well as around 200 minutes of audio and video content, including interviews with the National Gallery director Dr Nicholas Penny, the dramatist Robin Brooks, the artist Maggie Hambling and the Girl With a Pearl Earring author Tracy Chevalier. Making use of special iPhone features and using high-resolution images, it is possible to zoom in to see details from artworks, easily missed when viewed in the gallery.
There is a growing trend for images of artworks to be shared and discussed online. This form of "crowd curation" is an already a popular tool used to get people talking about new artists, but it is increasingly becoming a way to stimulate interest and debate in older and better-known works of art. Peter Tullin, the managing partner of Culture Label, the company that developed the Artful iPhone application with the technology partner Elastik Mobile, believes that the main role of museums is to engage with the public and provide access to collections. As the Artful application makes collections available to all iPhone users, it allows the Museum of London and other museums to extend their reach to a global audience. Those who cannot physically get to the gallery, perhaps because they are based abroad or simply don't have the time, will still be able to see the exhibits.
Tullin said: "It will essentially allow galleries to take the content to the public even if the public can't get to the content." Sean O'Sullivan, the head of retail at the Museum of London, believes it will encourage more visitors to come to the museum and see its collections - such as the new Galleries of Modern London exhibition to open in the spring. O'Sullivan also said: "The beauty of this product is that even if you can't get to our physical building, you can access the story of London anywhere in the world. Our virtual visitors are just as important to us and we hope to increase our virtual offering in a variety of ways, including the iPhone application through Culture Label."
The Museum of London is keeping the names of exhibits available to view from your iPhone under wraps until the application is up and running. However, it has said that the images available will tell the history of London and its people stretching back over 250,000 years. * The National