Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has long been distinguished for combining bold and stylish web design with a strong commitment to public access. The museum, which is famous for its works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and others from the golden age of Dutch art, has now excelled itself with its new Rijksstudio initiative.
Rijksstudio makes available 125,000 high-resolution images from the collection for anyone to curate, re-use and share. The images (paintings, drawings, sculptures, museum objects and more) can be searched by a wide variety of thematic tags, from styles of art, animals, to saints, to imaginary creatures, to Asian gods, and so on, as well as being able to search by indiviual artists. Each is illustrated by a good-szed ‘thumbnail’ image, clicking on which takes you to a full-size reproduction with title, object details and descriptive tags. Browsing is easy, logical and compulsive, and the site is a model of good design. Needless to say, the whole site is available in both Dutch and English.
If you sign up to the Rijksstudio you can start curating your own collections. A regulation ‘like’ option lets you selecte either a full work or lets you zoom in and crop a section from the work, which you can then drop into your own studio set. So I signed up and decided to zoom in on eyes in art, examples of which you can see above or browse the full set here. So you can curate not simply by picking particular paintings, but particular aspects of paintings, allowing all sorts of imaginative routes to be created should you be so inclined. Another set I’ve produced is a wistful one on clouds. Over 8,000 curated collections have been created already, and the site has only been active for a couple of days.
You can share your discoveries in the usual ways with Facebook, Twitter etc, either individual images or curated sets. You can also download images for for re-use (they ask you to credit the source if you are reproduced the images anywhere, and reproductions for commerial use may require payment, though not always so), or you can order prints, postcards and so on.
This is the model of what museums, galleries and archives must now be. They have to forget thinking that the web is a shopfront designed primarily to invite visitors to a physical space. The web is now where they exist – their physical location merely helps ground them in the greater virtual reality. Having reorienteered themselves to this new reality, they have also to reorienteer themselves to how people behave in such a space. The people in this virtual space are in charge. They can see everything, then can go wherever they want to go, they control the collection. If not quite the owners, they can certainly be the curators. Of course the laws of copyright must be followed, and the museum retains a duty of care for all of the objects whose physical realities are its responsibility. But overall care has become a collectively responsibility. I now manage my small part of the Rijksmuseum. So can anyone. It has become become all that much richer a collection because of this. Let’s hope some other collections who need to take note are taking note.