Art and technology mingle at S.F. museum

The rebuilt de Young is using everything from podcasts to cutting-edge displays to get patrons closer to the art.

SAN FRANCISCO--Even famous old art, like Fredric Edwin Church's "Rain Season in the Tropics" and Aaron Douglas' "Aspiration," can use a little high-tech promotion.

Next month, the newly renovated de Young Museum here in bucolic Golden Gate Park will start offering podcasts featuring museum directors and curators through its Web site.

The podcast is one of several high-tech outreach programs the museum, which opened earlier this month after a five-year, $200 million rebuilding project, is offering patrons. Although the podcast is bound to generate buzz, perhaps the most cutting-edge tech project at the de Young is a one-of-a-kind, high-tech presentation of the museum's major collections that lets visitors "turn" pages on a floor-to-ceiling screen.

The Collection Icons, as the museum calls the new display, even makes a subtle whooshing sound when the virtual pages turn.

The digital display was developed by the San Francisco design firm Propp + Guerin. Although other museums, including The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., are using some elements of the technology, the de Young's use of high-tech presentation tools is likely the most comprehensive, said Scott Aronian, a digital designer at Propp + Guerin.

It is also likely the biggest installation in the world of HoloPro, a transparent, high-tech material embedded in the Collection Icons' glass panels. Developed in Germany, HoloPro's gelatinous surface is laser-etched with tiny prisms that enable rear projection from the ceiling rather than from directly behind the screen. The result is sharp, colorful images--even in bright daylight. A museum spokesperson declined to say how much the display cost.

The panels are in the museum's free Kimball Education Gallery, located just inside the main entrance. The sparsely furnished room is dominated by four large floor-to-ceiling glass panels, which function as high-tech touch screens for interactive presentations on the de Young's major collections, which focus on American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, and on art of the native Americas, Africa and the Pacific.

Tech and de Young art

The images, which are projected from the ceiling, appear to come from within the glass panels themselves. The panels are also touch-activated, allowing visitors to select and interact with segments of programs such as African art, 20th century American art and ancient American art.

Turning virtual pages
Sheila Pressley, the de Young's director of education, demonstrated the display to CNET News.com by dragging the tip of her finger across the corner of a book displayed on the screen in order to "turn" its virtual pages. "We wanted something beautiful," Pressley said.

The panels indeed deliver a certain wow effect, like the first time you see a flat-panel television. Sleek, transparent and wire-free, the screens are, in essence, the ultimate

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