Culture Themes, the same group behind #AskACuratorDay, has organized yet another fun way for museums to engage the public with objects in their collections. Today was the inaugural #MusGif — that’s Museum + GIF, if the hashtag threw you off — a day for cultural institutions to exhibit some of their lesser-known works through GIFs, posted on Twitter. The social media platform introduced automatic playback of GIFs only this June, and the integrated technology has proven to be a useful tool for museums, among many others.
Today, for example, some teams demonstrated the functionality of objects that still images cannot capture. The Royal College of Physicians shared two gems: some delicate, interactive pop-ups hidden in a a 16th-century engineering book, and the rotating mechanics of a paper wheel chart, tucked into a 1561 copy of Trithemius’ Polygraphia, a tome devoted to cryptology:
Brass reveals some unexpected flexibility through the wriggly locomotion of this Indian decorative fish, shared by the Horniman Museum in South London:
Other museums took advantage of the format’s multi-frame functionality to overcome the limits of a normal picture frame, which can make capturing the entirety of large artworks difficult. London’s National Portrait Gallery surveyed the longest portrait in its collection: the funeral panorama of the Duke of Wellington that stretches over 66 feet long. About 1.5 million people attended the actual event in November 1852.
Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive posted the first fold-out section of a book showing the city of Venice in 1486, which stretches more than five feet long.
In a similar vein, the Wellcome Collection, a museum of medical curiosities, compiled a series of nine watercolors from Japan that depict the death and decay of a noble lady into one somewhat macabre GIF:
Wellcome also stitched together a number of Eadward Muybridge’s locomotion studies into a single image. Below is one of the photographer’s running cats (which also serves as its website 404 error message!), and the museum also shared similar GIFs of a raccoon, and, of course, a horse.
Muybridge’s stereographs are also well known. But Harvard’s Center for the History of Medicine shared an unusual one of a doctor performing an operation in France:
Other institutions saw #MusGif as opportunity to reveal objects from different perspectives. The University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology provided a tour of an ivory memento mori pendant; seen in the round, the carved trinket reveals the face of a dead man attached to a decaying skull:
Another direction in which some took the prompt was to offer a peek into the rarely seen restoration processes. The Wellcome Collection provided a fascinating clip of one of its mummies receiving a CT scan. According to its blog, this mummy, a male who arrived from Peru, is naturally preserved.
And here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of London’s National Portrait Gallery’s conservators prepping an original frame for a Van Dyck painting before it toured. The entire conservation process is also available online.
This timelapse, shared by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, documents the conservation of a shooter’s cheekpiece, a gun attachment that protects the wielder’s face:
And, of course, GIFs allow for playful experimentation with artworks. Many museums chose to animate objects that would otherwise remain static, like the Freer and Sackler galleries, which created this beautiful graphic of Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s “Waves at Matsushima” ahead of the Freer’s exhibition of the Japanese painter’s works:
Here’s Arcimboldo’s “Fire,” as reimagined by the High Museum of Art:
And the Getty had this great update to a red-figure skyphos showing a woman who drank just a tad too much wine:
#MusGIF 2015 continues on Twitter through midnight on October 21.
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