More than 30 museums worldwide are teaming up with a free app hailed as “Shazam for art”. Smartify, which uses image recognition technology to identify works of art scanned through a smartphone, ran pilot projects this spring with the Wallace Collection and National Portrait Gallery in London and with open access data from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The UK-based startup yesterday (21 September) announced new international partners including London’s National Gallery and Royal Academy of Arts, the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
The iOS and Android app is designed to complement, not compete with, the physical experience of visiting a museum. “There’s so much more information online,” says Anna Lowe, one of its four co-founders. By collating museums’ existing content about their collections and exhibitions, Smartify helps visitors to “get it at the moment they are most engaged”, she says.
The app offers a digital entry for each work scanned, including a thumbnail image (due to copyright protection) and the “tombstone data” (title, date and medium) as well as longer captions, artists’ biographies and links to related content online. A voiceover function will assist the visually impaired. Users are encouraged to save favourites to their own virtual collections, which can also be viewed offline. The idea, inspired by Spotify, is to “build a playlist across museums”, Lowe says.
After a test run last summer at the London public art exhibition, Sculpture in the City, the scanning function also extends to three dimensions, taking in sculptures, installations and objects at several venues. And in a move that will please museum lovers frustrated by the crowds around popular exhibits, the image recognition technology works even when the art is partially obscured.
A social enterprise backed by grants from the UK government and the European Union, Smartify aims to be a “global platform” for museums that may not be able to afford to develop and maintain their own apps, Lowe says. The basic service is free, but partners can pay for different tiers of membership (up to £7,000 a year) to access data analytics and add extra features such as augmented reality and bespoke trails.
Smartify is open to expanding to art fairs and commercial galleries in future, Lowe says. A collaboration with Deutsche Bank’s corporate collection is due to go live in the VIP lounges at Frieze London and Frieze Masters next month.