UNDERSTANDING that: museums often operate under severe budgetary constraints and that the forthcoming suggestion (of a theoretical technological nature) may cost far more than most museums could afford, this blog post seeks not to establish the realism of the ideas proffered therein; rather said post attempts only to suggest a solution to the author’s own perceived problem in a manner that would be, in effect, “totally sweet.”
So it occurred to me a few weeks ago, while perusing the galleries at the wonderful Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), that it would be helpful to know whether certain works were presently exhibiting. I thought of this while my wife and I were in search of some Chuck Close pieces that we know to be in the museum’s permanent collection. But we couldn’t find them. And the museum’s paper map indicates only (and fairly) which sections of the building contain which major categories of art. Museum’s often keep excess pieces in storage in order to rotate in other works from time to time, but I’m not aware of any museums with a system by which patrons can tell whether their favorite works are on display or in a climate-controlled storage crate.
So my idea: location tracking within the museum for each catalogued work of art.
Using RFID tags, museums could mark each work. To keep things simple, the system could track only whether a piece was in a certain room rather than trying to scan the presence of pieces in every potential hanging/display space. Museums should NOT incorporate such asset tracking into their security system due to the insecurity of the RFID format. But using the simple location data along with detailed descriptions of each work, museums could create websites and mobile applications that allowed users to search for works by their favorite artists and see whether anything is on display – and in which gallery. Users could, alternately, search by any other form of data made available by the museum, whether descriptive tags, title, period/style, etc.
So…does anything like this currently exist? If so, I’d love to know about it.