Art app? There’s a gallery for that

Best all-rounders

Tate, UK

The Tate galleries were among the first to recognise the value of the internet — both for engaging visitors and for offering multimedia exhibition guides. Their clear, easy-to-use website includes a wide range of blogs, a Tate Channel of video interviews and short films, and no fewer than 16 apps. These are mostly free, and range from the educational, such as the Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, to the just-for-fun: the Muybridgizer allows you to create an Eadweard Muybridge-style animation using your iPhone camera. Most apps are only available for iPad and iPhone, but Tate is slowly developing availability for Android: I downloaded their guide to the current Roy Lichtenstein show at Tate Modern to my Samsung smartphone, and flicked through a selection of his paintings and scrapbooks from my desk. Brilliant. 10/10

Museum of Modern Art, New York

MoMA’s well-designed website has a multimedia channel hosting “walkthroughs” of exhibitions, blogs and a strong social media presence. The gallery also has free apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. I tested the latter, and enjoyed the audio tours of each floor: many of the gallery’s masterpieces, such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Edvard Munch’s The Scream, are presented with a curator’s audio guide. There’s a dedicated kids’ section, too; the Art Lab iPad app lets you design your own artworks in the style of those in the MoMA collection. 9/10

Best for audio guides

Louvre, Paris

The world’s biggest museum has an audio guide available as an app for both iPhone and Android. The latter costs about R30, but it’s worth it: an authoritative English voice steers you around the gallery, pausing to admire such treasures as the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. It’s designed to be used while visiting the museum, but is just as good from a distance. A free iPad app, Louvre HD, meanwhile features hundreds of artworks, arranged by century. The pictures are stunning, though there’s no video or audio commentary, and the background music is on the tacky side (there’s a limit to the number of times you can hear Pachelbel’s Canon in D minor). 8/10

Prado, Madrid

There are several apps associated with the Prado, and one endorsed by the museum. I tried an audio guide app for Android, made by the art publishers Stendhal — who also make apps for several other Spanish galleries, including Madrid’s Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. It costs about R25, and features audio commentary on about 25 works from the Prado’s collection, including Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and Venus and Adonis by Paolo Veronese. Bizarrely, there are no photographs, so only worth downloading if you are visiting the gallery. 5/10

Best for sheer beauty

Gagosian galleries, worldwide

The gorgeous Gagosian app for iPad is free, and updated four times a year with multimedia packages about the exhibitions in the 12 Gagosian galleries. In the current issue, a video introduction to the Robert Rauschenberg show at the Madison Avenue gallery in New York has director Ealan Wingate describing a 1962 photograph of Rauschenberg in his Broadway studio. Artworks leap off the wall, complete with captions, as Wingate speaks. Truly innovative. 10/10

National Palace Museum, Taipei

This museum in Taiwan has a nifty English-language website: themed microsites, on subjects such as Chinese flower painting, offer a window on to the museum’s huge collection of ancient Chinese artefacts — several of which you can view in 3D. The free iPad app offers tours of selected gallery floors, timelines and hundreds of beautiful photographs. 8/10

Most deceptive ‘free’ app

The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The grand Russian museum’s multiplatform app is free — but all you get is a floorplan and some basic information about the gallery’s history. To see any actual art, you have to download “additions” priced between R9 and R37. Still, R37 does get you a full “virtual visit”, with 100 amazing 3D panoramas, and descriptions of individual artworks. 6/10

Least digitally savvy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The United States’s largest art gallery has a serviceable website: its “MetMedia” channel features a jazz band performing inside the Temple of Dendur, and a fascinating film about the preservation of an ancient Persian carpet. But the museum has created surprisingly few apps — the only one I could find was Murder at the Met, a murder-mystery adventure for smartphones, set in the museum’s American Wing in 1899. 5/10

Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin

To be fair, the website for this stunning “temple of light and glass”, designed by Mies van der Rohe, does say it is “being given a face-lift”. But still, it’s bizarre that the gallery has taken this long to overhaul its dull, multimedia-free site. You can view images of the gallery’s collection, alongside Berlin’s other major museums, in a centralised digital section. But there are no apps, no blogs and no social media engagement. 3/10

Most lost in translation

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The official website is reasonably useful when it comes to booking tickets — and there’s a virtual tour of the gallery, made with the Google Art Project. But the English commentary on its Android app is barely comprehensible (sample: “The Gallery of the Uffizi is an extraordinary container of paintings … from the 1200s until the days ours”), and neither the virtual tour nor most of the links seem to work. 2/10

Best for accessibility

Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

It’s surprising how few galleries have cottoned on to the potential of apps for deaf and disabled visitors. Budapest’s Museum of Fine Arts is getting ahead of the game: last week, the gallery unveiled an app called SzepMu SL (sign-language), aimed at deaf visitors. Available for Android, iPhone and iPad, it features videos in several international sign languages of about 150 paintings from the museum’s collections, with an interactive map. 9/10

Best interactive sites

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The V&A is fast catching up on Tate. The V&A Channel on its website features films about items in its collection and celebrity interviews from private views. There’s also a “things to do at home” section, for those who fancy making a Kylie Minogue paper doll. Among the V&A’s great range of multiplatform apps, I liked Hollywood Camera for iPad: upload a photo of yourself, dress in outfits from last year’s Hollywood costume show, and share them on Facebook and Twitter. 10/10

Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

This museum in Warhol’s home city has several free apps available, including DIY: Pop for iPhone and iPad, which allows you to create your own Warhol-style silkscreen print and share it online. The app guides you carefully through each step, giving a real insight into the artist’s process. 8/10 — © Guardian News & Media 2013


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