Friday, May 13, 2011

New tech in an old situation

Van Cleef and Arpels, Platinum Brooch
set with Diamonds, Emeralds and Black Enamel
Paris, 1919
Some off-topic observations about a new use for new technology in an old setting -- the exhibition gallery. 

Yesterday I attended the current exhibition of jewelry by Van Cleef and Arpels that is now at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  Since I design and make jewelry I find the subject endlessly fascinating.   It's amazing how the urge to adorn the human person with some kind of ornamentation has persisted from the first days of Cro-Magnon man right down to the present.

I'm not a great lover of Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry, which has always seemed to me to be very over-the-top, even gaudy, but there is no question about their artistry, their inventiveness and the quality of their workmanship.  So, the flash of diamonds and the clash of colors that sometimes appear in their work notwithstanding, I spent a pleasant two hours poking around this very large exhibition. 

One thing that amused me was the realization that modern technology has popped up in the museum world in a new way.  The exhibition is very well documented for the visitor.  Each person receives a small catalog with their admission pass which describes the objects on display, thus reducing the need for individual labels.  This makes for a less cluttered feeling as one looks at the objects.  There are some wall cards and labels, but they are very limited in number.  There are several videos explaining some of the firm's most famous innovations, such as the mystery setting and the zip necklace.  There are full printed catalogs available for perusal.  But what really caught my attention were the iPads.  The iPad has replaced the audioguide.  I did not see the rental stand, but I did see several individuals walking around holding iPads and listening to the commentary with earphones plugged into them.  The beauty of this in comparison to the old acoustiguide is that on the iPad one can not only listen but can also look.  Several iPads were also available in a stationary location so that the casual visitor might use them.  I investigated and found that they included much more detailed descriptions of each piece than was included in the printed handout, plus all of the videos and detailed photographs of each piece. 

Van Cleef and Arpels, Sautoir Necklace
Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli and Diamonds
France, 1929
This is clearly going to be the wave of the future for this kind of usage.  Of course, good as the technology is it cannot replace the effect of seeing the real thing.  An example is given here.  It is one of the pieces in the exhibition, a beautiful turquoise, lapis and diamond sautoir necklace that was sold last year at Sotheby's Geneva for $104,257.  Beautiful as it looks in this picture, it is nothing to how gorgeous it is in its serenely beautiful reality.