You’ve seen them on brochures and business cards, on park benches and in magazines. QR codes (Quick Response Codes) are those pixel matrixes that can be scanned with an app on your smartphone to activate an internet link. Initially, they were used to track parts in car manufacturing, but today advertisers use them so that potential customers can learn more about their product. Some well-funded schools have even brought them into the classroom. And, most interestingly, art institutions have started incorporating them into the museum experience.
Sometimes they offer general information about the museum. For example, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art places a QR code on the entrance sign that links to the museum’s history, important exhibitions, hours and building details. Elsewhere, they provide supplementary information about art for those who are interested. At the National Museum of Scotland, QR codes link visitors to an external webpage with information and media about the exhibition.
They can even be interactive. At both the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology and the Fenimore Art Museum, QR codes at each artwork in the exhibitions direct users to blog posts with original comments. Visitors are encouraged to post their own comments from their phones.
When QR codes work, they can provide access to otherwise inaccessible media. It can enhance the museum experience for those who want to learn more while not burdening those who are satisfied with the printed label on the wall. On the other hand, many visitors either do not have smartphones or do not care to use the codes. Faulty QR technology can lead to frustration, and the information provided by the QR link might not be valued anyway.
The Nasher Museum recently used a QR code in our exhibition “The Jazz Loft Project.” The exhibition featured work by W. Eugene Smith, an artist who photographed the street below his fourth-floor loft through a broken window that had been painted black. The black broken glass created a unique jagged frame for his photographs. Visitors to the Nasher Museum could scan a QR code to download an app that imposed the same style of frame on the smartphone’s camera. Then users could take Smith-style photos and share them online. (View all the submissions on the Nasher Museum’s Flickr page).
We want to hear your thoughts on QR codes! Fill out this brief survey about whether, when and how you might use them at the Nasher Museum.
IMAGE: Visitor-submitted photo inspired by “The Jazz Loft Project,” through a smartphone app. More information here.