FRANCISCO — Scene 1. You’re in the middle of
nowhere. You pull over in your car. You set the GPS and
it’s only a moment before you’re flying around some
hidden switchback on the way to your destination —
that stretch of beach with the secret waterfall. You
thought you’d never see it again. But there it is!
2. Now you’re in a museum. The place is big — a
million galleries flying off in every direction. You’ve
got the handy-dandy foldout map that’s supposed to
guide you to that painting you fell in love with the
last time. But you can’t find it anywhere in the
labyrinth — where’s your GPS?
the technology that keeps you from getting lost outside
is being used to help you find your destination inside
— and tell you about it once you are there. The de
Young Museum in San Francisco has launched a new app
that uses the latest indoor positioning technology to
take you by the hand — or at least the phone in your
hand — and guide you toward that favorite painting or
like GPS, only indoors, it’s the first app to use
Apple’s indoor positioning with core location
technology. It can help you navigate to the Hockney,
Picasso or Cassatt you were seeking, not to mention the
gift shop and exit.
put, the app — which tracks your latitude and
longitude and figures out the direction you’re facing
— gets you through the labyrinth. It alerts you as you
approach the painting you’re after, and once you’ve
reached it, all you do is lift the phone to your ear and
listen as one of the museum’s curators explains what
you’re seeing. The lecture triggers automatically, and
only you can hear it, through your phone or earbud.
to audio tours with their clunky shoulder sets and
headphones. No more confusing 2-D maps and brochures.
This is elegant, unobtrusive.
ready to start exploring?"
Mark Paddon speaking. He’s the CEO and founder of
Guidekick, the Berkeley-based startup that developed the
new app in collaboration with the de Young and Apple’s
indoor positioning engineers.
taps his phone and there we are: our position in the
enormous lobby is pinpointed. He rolls his fingers over
a couple of blue markers, showing what’s nearby: the
coat-check room, the restrooms. He taps "start
exploring," scrolls through a few of the options
that pop up, and suggests that we check out some of his
favorite works from the contemporary American art
the blue arrow on the phone, we soon find ourselves
standing in front of his pick: a pulsing, wall-sized
digital landscape by David Hockney. It seems to breathe,
this video of the Yorkshire countryside with its
eye-popping greens and multiple perspectives of forest
and field at the height of summer. It’s made up of 18
panels, each containing an undulating piece of the
hold the phone to my ear — and hear the voice of
Richard Benefield, the de Young’s acting director, who
curated the museum’s massive Hockney exhibition of
2013-14. He explains how Hockney painted, in effect,
with his cameras, saturating the natural colors,
multiplying the perspectives in order to create
something beyond Picasso and Braque, "a cubist
like walking around with the best curators in the
world," says Paddon, who is 26 and grew up feeling
that trips to low-tech museums with printed placards or
programmed audio recordings were unsatisfying. For his
generation, he says, "The apps sucked and we didn’t
really like the audio tours. So we thought, ‘How do we
do it better?’"
Castro, the de Young’s chief information officer —
and Paddon’s main collaborator inside the museum —
is touring the galleries with us.
notes that the de Young’s core audience is aged 45-60.
It’s loyal. Many among this constituency still
gravitate to traditional audio tours and don’t mind
the protocol: punching in numbers or scanning bar codes
on the wall to trigger the mini-lectures in their
we’re looking to get the next wave, the millennials,"
Castro explains. "They require a little more
technology to engage with the art on the wall."
this morning, he says, a team of Apple engineers was
on-site, surveying the building with iOS9 technology in
order to help refine the app (so far only available on
iPhones and iPads) and prepare for the design of future
apps. Paddon’s company already has one in the works
for the Legion of Honor museum. It will include a
curated tour of the upcoming exhibition devoted to
post-Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard.
de Young’s app is a kind of "beta project,"
Castro says, and the museum intends to build upon it.
now the app — which is free to download and has no
pay-walls once inside it — includes four curated audio
tours of the museum. It also includes lectures by
Benefield and other curators on 33 key works,
representing art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, as
well as early and contemporary American art. (Castro
hopes to triple that number in 2016.) For each work, the
listener selects from among four lecture tracks, each
diving deeper and at greater length into the subject.
app’s developers plan to take it to Android, perhaps
by summer. They hope to add video and to incorporate a
kids’ tour. Eventually, special exhibitions will have
their own curated tours and the museum will likely sell
admission tickets and ask visitors to RSVP to special
events via the app.
going to be adding and expanding," Paddon says.
"It’s going to continue to grow; a living
follows the arrow to several other favorite works, which
are also described via audio.
a hanging installation by San Francisco artist Ruth
Asawa, who drew on Mexican basket-weaving techniques to
weave lengths of wire into spiraling natural forms,
intricate as beehives.
a ghostly portrait of "The Last Civil War
Veteran," painted by Larry Rivers who based it on a
notorious 1961 photograph that appeared in Life
magazine. The photo was of one Walter Williams, who
claimed to have fought for the Confederacy, but proved
to be an impostor. Born in 1854, he was only 11 when the
Civil War ended.
we take the elevator up to the museum’s nine-story
Hamon Tower, with its glass walls and wraparound views
of Golden Gate Park, the city, the bay. There are more
lectures to be heard here, about San Francisco and its
history, and about the architecture of the copper-clad
hold the phone to my ear and hear a voice: "If you
continue to your right, you’ll come to the north side
of the building where — fog permitting — you will
see the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge … "
turn to my right, and there’s the bridge. I spin in a
circle, and the app’s blue arrow — like a compass
that keeps pointing the way toward magnetic north —
spins in response, continuing to show me the way. It
again guides my vision to the Golden Gate, and then I
forget about the app. The technology has vanished as I
put the phone away, which would seem to be the point.