MoMA Redux
March 26, 2009 7:34 AM   Subscribe

The Museum of Modern Art began working in late 2007 to renovate its Web site substantially for the first time since 2002. It knew that it wouldn’t be just updating a few pieces — it would be entering a whole new era. Earlier this month, the new site launched, and is an almost complete reconstruction of how the museum presents itself online. It features livelier images from its collection and exhibitions, increased use of video and the new interactive calendars and maps.
posted by netbros (12 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Where can I add my youtube-style comments?
posted by Artw at 7:50 AM on March 26, 2009

I love how *modern* it was of them to put the main navigation and logo on the bottom of the screen. But, then again, at least they have a white background.
posted by milarepa at 7:55 AM on March 26, 2009

With adult admission to the museum now $20, I'm surprised they didn't make it a pay-site.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:19 AM on March 26, 2009

Oh and it also looks like crap.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 8:39 AM on March 26, 2009

I know I'm receding into Old Man Grumpus territory when it comes to museum websites, but in the end, I think they make the mistake of trying too hard for flashiness and in the process neglecting the online collection, the main point of the thing (as I see it, anyway; I do recognize that reasonable people could disagree). I don't like having magnification windows popping up at me as I browse the collection. I really don't like the fact that images in their single-image view are all smaller than 500 px, with no zooming (unless I've just been really, really unlucky about which objects I've been looking at). That might be a copyright thing, might be an attempt to prevent people from making coffee mugs out of hi-res images of their collections, and those are understandable reasons, I guess.... but for an art museum website, high quality, zoomable images of your collection are worth a thousand pages of video and calendars.
posted by COBRA! at 8:44 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

For artsy sites, disabling "open link in new tab" is the ne plus ultra of design success. We have a semi-success here if the page "livelier images" points to is typical. Isolated colored rectangles with text (Conservation), tabbed browsing works. Conjoined colored-rectangle-with-text and a photograph (Film + Robert de Niro), tabbed browsing works by right-clicking on the photograph but not on the rectangle. Photo with text overlay (Painting and Sculpture) no open in new tab. Extra points for inconsistency.

> Site requires the Flash 8 plug-in or higher and the Adobe Acrobat Reader

Flash is evil, just wanted to get that in. And judging by the contortions you have to go through to find and disable all the places acrobat 9 calls the mother ship without permission, acrord32.exe is begging for its own place on the "is evil" list also.

Addressing only MOMA's drawings and paintings, what I want from a museum site is vast numbers of fast-load thumbnail pages arranged by artist, thumbnails being linked to ENORMOUS jawdropping-hi-res images (png preferred over jpeg) of the works themselves--big enough to see the brushwork, the charcoal strokes, the paper texture--and right-click-save-as not disabled so I don't have to turn off javascript just to use the site. That's all, nothing more.
posted by jfuller at 8:44 AM on March 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think part of the problem with so many museum and gallery sites is that there is an impression among the players that everything they do must reflect current style and art. Thus, in the internet age, we are treated to Flash or pure-CSS sites that are "imaginatively" designed, slow, and often horrifically clunky in a way that instills a "will it, or won't it crash?" sort of anticipation with every click.

What I find funny is that so many museum site designs adopt an underlying modernist, grid-based layout...but without any of the simplicity and efficiency of performance that modernist design embraces.

And, yeah, museums, of all places, need to have much larger images.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2009

And, yeah, museums, of all places, need to have much larger images.

I agree 100%. But weirdly, that's not a prevailing view in museums. I kind of alluded to this in my comment, but there are 2 basic reasons that museums keep their images small:

1. Copyright status. It's surprisingly common for a museum not to know for sure what the copyright status of a work in their collection is. Is it public domain? Does the artist still hold the rights? Did somebody here actually think to ask for a reproduction license when we got the piece? A common--but not very satisfying-- way around this is to keep your images smaller than 500 px wide, because of a belief that at that side you've got a better Fair Use defense (some places that are harder-core hold to 250 px).

2. Fear of Giving the Milk Away for Free. Lots of people I talk to are worried about having high-res images of their collection freely available because they think that inevitably leads to somebody else swiping your images, putting them on tote bags, and making a bundle off of you; the flip side of this is that there's a revenue stream for museums in licensing your images out for tote bags (or publication, or whatever). Note that MoMa links to their Permissions service right underneath each image.

Issue 1 is, ultimately, a mess; I've heard a pretty wide spectrum of interpretations to that situation... some museums play it safe, hoping to minimize exposure. Some put it all out there, waiting to defend themselves in court if they have to. A very lucky few have all of their rights squared away and act accordingly. My guess is that this will all change over time as IP law evolves and museums have more time to devote to copyright law. But who knows?

Issue 2 feels to me like a generational thing. Younger museum people I know tend to want to make high-res images available, and point out that the cost of running a Permissions office often eats up all of the Permissions revenue. But at the same time, it's tough to convince a museum administrator to undercut any source that brings a dollar into the system.
posted by COBRA! at 9:59 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

The site is crashing my Opera 9.64, beware.
posted by milestogo at 10:03 AM on March 26, 2009

> But at the same time, it's tough to convince a museum administrator to undercut
> any source that brings a dollar into the system.

To such administrators: if you're really worried about that then so am I, and your fund drive announcement will be dropped unopened into the paper recycle. Example set, example followed.
posted by jfuller at 10:28 AM on March 26, 2009

Revolutionary! An art museum with a navigable website!

posted by cmoj at 11:15 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I went there recently and was pleasantly surprised by one of their audio tour options. Just turn on the wifi on your iPhone or blackberry or whatever, and the audio tour comes in over your headphones. That was cool.
posted by fungible at 12:28 PM on March 26, 2009

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