Glass at your fingertips

Earlier this week, during one of my classes, we discussed how the first uses of digital technology in the museum were intended to make collection records more easily accessible and increase organization within the institution and how this evolved to giving the public access to collections online.  When we started discussing how the widespread use of mobile devices led museums to develop apps that promote free choice learning, I found myself thinking about one of my favorite museums, the Corning Museum of Glass. Although I tend to gravitate toward history museums, I love CMOG because it brings together science, history, and art in a creative way. When I visited as a child, I loved the science behind glass and its functions in the world. Now, I also appreciate the beautiful and meaningful works of art and the exhibition that shows the history of glass throughout the world.

So why did learning about digital technology remind me of Corning? In 2015, the museum opened its Contemporary Art and Design Wing. I had the opportunity to visit the Wing not long after its opening as an Elmira College student with a Museum Studies intro course.

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A look into two of the rooms in the Contemporary Art + Design Wing

We got a tour of the new space with a member of its installation team who gave us insight on how the exhibition was developed. He emphasized how the team that developed the exhibition wanted to integrate technology that would give visitors access to more information about the objects in the exhibition and the architecture of the new wing. I instantly fell in love with this wing. The architecture is fascinating and the space feels very bright and open, so I think that it’s great that people can see the intentions behind the space itself as well as the object within.

GlassApp was launched when the new wing opened, giving visitors the ability  to access more information about specific objects in the exhibition promoting the idea of free choice learning. Visitors can choose to only see information on objects that interest them. The information available on GlassApp includes not only facts such as materials, accession numbers, and a biography of the artist, but also videos featuring staff members speaking about the object and an interpretation of the object.

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Screenshot of the home page of GlassApp

I used GlassApp on my second visit to the Contemporary Art and Design Wing, another trip with a different class at Elmira. The object that caught my eye was Silvia Levenson’s It’s Raining Knives.

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The picture of It’s Raining Knives on GlassApp

It is immediately striking because glass knives are hung over a miniature town. I wanted to know more about the story behind it, so I used GlassApp to discover that Levenson lived in Argentina during the Dirty War, a time of terror in the country under the dictatorship of Rafael Videla. I watched a video of the Chief Operating Officer explaining why It’s Raining Knives is in the exhibition and why he thought the public would find this piece intriguing. The ability to learn what I did on GlassApp had a huge impact on me. I wanted to know more about the Dirty War because I hadn’t even heard of it before and as a history major and Spanish minor, I felt as if I needed to learn about it. A few months after this visit and interaction with GlassApp, I wrote my senior thesis on the Dirty War’s impact on Argentina.

Conveniently, this week also included #AskACurator day and Corning was a participating museum. I used this opportunity to ask the curators what feature of GlassApp they like the best. I got multiple replies from varying staff members. Curator Kelly Conway replied that she loves “how so many staff members have ownership of the info-way beyond the curatorial staff,” referring to the fact that the informational videos on GlassApp include staff members from varying departments throughout the museum. Another staff member, Kate Larson, said that she enjoys “how it pulls together different media about the work- videos, artist bios, and other objects.” The president and executive director of the museum, Karol Wight, responded that she also enjoys the staff videos. Another staff member, Marv Bolt, replied that he enjoys the fact that the public can discuss favorite pieces without being physically in front of the piece.

I think GlassApp is a great way for the public to learn about the Contemporary Art + Design Wing at Corning. I encourage you to check out GlassApp and if you’re ever in upstate New York, I highly recommend that you visit the museum and experience the wing in person!

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5 thoughts on “Glass at your fingertips

  1. Thanks for the post. I’m always at a toss up as to whether or not to download the museum’s app in a situation like this. Last time was at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and I found it’s largely visual presentation too distracting. But it looks like GlassApp is more auditory, which fits right into my way of experiencing.

    Now, it’s not clear in what I see, but do they take advantage of the fact that we experience so much of the world through touchscreen glass now? Because I’m seeing mad humor potential in this.

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    1. I agree that heavily visual apps can be a distraction. What I like about GlassApp is that you can stand in front of a piece and listen to the video of the staff member explaining its significance. It adds to the experience rather than distracting you from it.
      The app itself doesn’t mention anything about experiencing the would through touchscreen glass because it focuses on the new wing and the pieces within it which are all contemporary art. However, in the wing of the museum that focuses more on the science related aspects of glass, there are demonstrations and exhibits which explain the significance of glass in not only touchscreens, but also optical fibers which play a large role in day to day communications as well. I’m not sure if the museum intends to expand GlassApp to include this area of the museum, but it would definitely be a great addition to the app!

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  2. I think the glass app is interesting because it contains info that is specific to one section of the museum, and it can also be used outside the museum. It is great for researchers and students-that is, if the target audience for glass app is that category. But, for the regular visitor, the question is, do you want them to focus on their phones when they visit your museum or on the objects in your exhibition? I feel like a lot of museums release apps, with functions that a mobile responsive website could have. In creating apps, I think museums need to think about how it could enhance an experience or even solve a problem, rather than using apps as a host for videos, images and stories.

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