The Biophilia app as it appears in the Apple App Store. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Biophilia app as it appears in the Apple App Store (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Always eager to push the boundaries of what a museum should or should not collect, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has acquired a downloadable app for its collection. MoMA’s latest addition, Biophilia, costs $12.99 in both the iTunes and Google app stores. It was released with pop star Björk’s eighth album of the same name.

We asked Paola Antonelli, senior curator in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, whether she’d presented any other app to the acquisition committee or if Biophilia was the only one. She told Hyperallergic that they did “not present any other app to the committee at that [acquisition] meeting, but we have a whole list we are working on for the future.”

Antonelli blogged about the new acquisition on the museum’s blog and explained her reasoning for the choice:

With Biophilia … Björk truly innovated the way people experience music by letting them participate in performing and making the music and visuals, rather than just listening passively.

… The interactive graphics and animations of the mini-apps relate directly to the theme of each song and are the musical instruments. In the song “Solstice,” for example, players control the orbits, speed, and coordinates of planets orbiting a star. Rendered as simple colored lines, each planet and coordinate represents and controls the string music accompanying Björk’s vocals. In this elegant player-singer collaboration, users create alternately spare or highly layered and complex music, and are given the option to record and save their own unique Björk composition.

But what does it really mean for a museum to acquire a downloadable app? MoMA started collecting apps in back in the 1990s, when John Maeda’s 1994 Reactive Books entered the collection. It was distributed on floppy disks inside old-school physical books. What will it means for visitors to interact with Biophilia in a museum?

“People will be able to play Biophilia in the galleries, pre-loaded onto our own MoMA devices,” Antonelli says. “They will, however, not be able to download it from/through us. The only places where they can download the app are the iTunes or Google Play stores. Presumably visitors could download the app while they are in the galleries, by connecting their own devices to those online marketplaces and purchasing their own copy.

“We have not made plans on when to display Biophilia,” Antonelli adds, “and when the time comes, we will give it extra thought and work with our colleagues and perhaps even with Björk … We could load the app onto iPads and having those on display, for people to play. Some could have headphones, some could even be projected large, like we did with Talking Carl in the Talk to Me show,” she says.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.