Bound by a city ordinance that prevents it from physically expanding, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has erupted within the infinite expanse of the World Wide Web, blasting particles of information and activity in every direction.
Through the creation of a multi-faceted online presence, the Met has reached art lovers with different needs, attitudes, and modes of engagement. Its Web site links seekers to the sought — exhibitions, events, giving opportunities, shopping opportunities, ticket sales, logistics — but most importantly it links people to the art and to each other.
The most remarkable element of the Met’s digital presence is the virtual catalogue of its 340,000-work collection. Before the creation of this online database, scholars and amateurs had to manually search through the on-site catalogue and request an exclusive viewing of items not on exhibit. Now anyone anywhere can find artworks online, see images of them from several angles, and read information about the artist, medium, and provenance, as well as comprehensive descriptions written by art professionals.
For online visitors who want a more thematic experience, the new interactive program Connections offers unique online tours designed by curators, artists, and academics. However, Connections is a one-way flow. Dialogue is only possible outside the Site, in the realm of social media, where true connections become ever-expanding constellations.
In November, 2010 the Met announced plans to redesign its Fifth-Avenue plaza to make it more conducive to meeting and mingling. This encouragement of conversation outside its stone walls extends to cyberspace, where the Met has colonized the frontier of social media through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, ArtBabble, Delicious, and its Medieval Garden Blog.
The Met penetrates iPads, iPods, and iPhones through podcasts, newsletters, RSS feeds, mp3s, and recently, the new Met Guitars app, launched in tandem with the Guitar Heroes exhibition. The Met has also sparked collaboration through Foursquare, where mobile phone users play virtual tag within the museum, and through Flickr, where visitors can upload their museum photos and comment.
In his New York Times article, “From Picassos to Sarcophagi, Guided by Phone Apps” (October 1, 2010), Edward Rothstein complains:
Walk into a crowded museum, and what do you see? People with cameras or cellphones snapping pictures of people looking at objects. The artwork, document or fossil is a tourist site; the photograph is our souvenir. And the looking — for which museums were created — becomes a memory before it has even begun.
Rothstein overlooks the new way of looking…and seeing. In modern minds the snapshot and quick glance create openings to sublimity. Visitors upload their photos to Flickr, view others, grow curious, and return for a longer glance, transforming themselves from art tourists to art inhabitants.
The Met has created its own world online, and ventured out, into the noisy chaos of social media — to give people a place to get away, to look art in the face, turn inwards, and…muse.