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Getty Museum offers a look inside a 17th-century treasure (virtually, that is)

May 18, 2010 |  1:20 pm

Cabinet   The J. Paul Getty Museum is using new technology to provide a close-up look at an old treasure.

The Augsburg Display Cabinet (c.1630) is a German Kabinettschrank, a piece for storing and exhibiting  valuables and curiosities.

The wooden cabinet, which is about 29 inches tall, is the star attraction of one of four newly reinstalled galleries in the museum's North Pavilion. It rests on a Renaissance marble table with each of its four sides open to reveal an array of drawers, doors and cupboards.

Visitors aren't allowed to touch the cabinet -- which means they don't get the chance to fully appreciate its craftsmanship and complexity.

That's where the Getty's technology comes in.

"We are always looking for ways in which we can enhance the viewer's experience," says Erin Coburn, head of the museum's Collection Information & Access department. During a discussion about the pavilion's reopening, she says, "A curator suggested we do something to help people understand the Augsberg cabinet in a way other than just staring at it."

Coburn and her colleagues created an "interactive" -- a virtual model that computer users can spin, open and reassemble. This model is accessible via two touch screens in the gallery and on the Getty’s website at http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/north_pavilion/cabinet/index.html

The Getty also has enabled online computer users to view and interact with a floating 3-D simulation of the cabinet, thanks to Augmented Reality technology, which combines the real and the virtual in real time.

"With Augmented Reality, you have a marker on a piece of paper," says Coburn, "and it has certain information embedded on it and when you hold it up to a Web camera, the camera recognizes that it's telling the computer to do something."

Coburn says interactives are becoming more common in museums, but "what's unique for [the Getty] is that this is being installed permanently in the gallery."

Augmented Reality has been used commercially, Coburn says. "However, we weren't aware of it being popular in a museum setting. But this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try it out."

To view the Augsburg Display Cabinet with Augmented Reality technology, go to 
http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/north_pavilion/ar/index.html

-- Karen Wada

Above: Augsburg Display Cabinet (c. 1630). Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum

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