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Computers have been reducing all of human endeavor to numbers for some time now. The latest real-time experience to become quantified is the museum tour, in the form of the National Gallery of Art’s “Micro Gallery,” a touch-screen survey of its permanent collection. With a cool-enough interface, there’s less need to endure the grueling physical demands of actually trudging around from painting to sculpture to painting, so here are the 1’s and 0’s of museumgoing in the ’90s:
Nearly 1,700 images and objects are scanned in three sizes; 650 artists are digitized; an audio dictionary, atlas, and time line amplify, explain, and contextualize things like Van Gogh’s daubs; hypertext links provide 8,000 “pathways” through 530 subjects; hard copy is available for search results; 13 computers hold six gigabytes of storage space and are powered by 48 megs of RAM running at 133 megahertz and spewing 24 million colors onto 20-inch monitors (this, by the way, is almost enough power to run Windows 95).
The Micro Gallery is located in the arid-sounding Art Information Room (AIR) in the West Building. While heralding our inescapable future, the AIR also reflects our past. The site has been restored to the oak and bronze that first greeted visitors when the gallery opened—in 1941. Whoa, you mean they had art back then?