This, folks, is a little snippet of the future: Tate Liverpool, one of Europe's premier art museums, has teamed up with an innovative virtual merchandise startup to promote an upcoming Picasso show with virtual iPhone gifts.
The idea is to promote the Picasso: Peace and Freedom exhibition, due to start on May 21st, in an innovative and very engaging way. Little World Gifts is the startup concerned, and they specialize in advanced virtual gifts that are much more than those cheesy 64-by-64 pixel gifts that dot social networks like Facebook: Think interactive graphics, and tailored apps.
Which is exactly what's been done for the Tate and the Picasso show. The gift here is a "framed version" of Picasso's 1940s "Monument to the Spaniards who Died for France" represented as a graphical object in an iPhone app. The idea is that it's a simple promotional piece, a curio if you will, designed to get the public excited about coming to see the real thing hanging in the museum and also to get them to engage in the art perhaps in more depth than they would have before (like many an "interactive" museum promotion you've probably seen.)
But this is where the iPhone has a neat advantage: You can take the app anywhere with you, show your friends if you like. The Tate's leveraging the iPhone's ubiquity and "wow!" factor as a PR tool, of course, but there's a serious educational angle to think about here. The press release highlights that with this particular representation of Picasso's painting, you can do things that would be impossible with the original. Like manipulating it in virtual space to spin it, zoom in on it to examine the way each brush-stroke fell onto the canvas and dial up detailed info on the painting itself at will.
The joke is made that there's "no risk of damaging a priceless piece of art!" but my point is still valid—this kind of interactivity with an artwork is impossible with the original, and it will have great intrigue and educational value. There's even a sharing angle to this too, as the free app, via the free Little World Gifts app, can be shared with people you may think are interested—you can even ping your pals about it via Facebook (which you can bet many a schoolkid will be doing soon). Don't forget that a virtual PR promo gift is also better for the environment.
In a sense, Tate Liverpool is delivering a bit of the future way museum visits will work, today. Seeing the original in person always will be the attraction, of course, but giving users an information-rich virtual "toy" definitely adds to the experience (and enhances museum visitor buy-in, of course, with the chance of more future visits). And lest you think that Little Gifts is missing a trick by not developing this for the limelight-grabbing and more graphical iPad, then versions of these virtual PR goods will be coming for the tablet later in the year...though they note that the iPhone versions do scale up nicely for the iPad anyway.
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