In celebration of its fifth anniversary in Philadelphia, the Barnes Foundation has launched a new collection website that enables visitors to explore thousands of works in the Barnes’s unparalleled collection based on aesthetics—and download high-resolution images of over 1400 works that are now in the public domain.
Shelley Bernstein, Barnes Foundation deputy director for audience engagement & chief experience officer explains the project’s background, “Dr. Albert C. Barnes used his collection to teach students how to understand and appreciate art without an art historical background. By grouping works together according to their formal elements, rather than historical connections, he emphasized the universal nature of human expression, making them more accessible no matter one’s level of familiarity with the arts,” said Bernstein. “This project is an opportunity to apply this pioneering approach in the context of contemporary digital practice. Our goal was to build a next-generation collection website that is designed for all online users without barriers that inhibit deeper connection and discovery.”
Rather than requiring users to be familiar with names of artists or art historical movements, the Barnes’s new collection website, designed by Area 17—a digital product agency, founded in 2003 (with studios in Paris and New York)—takes into account the average person’s, the average student’s primary interest—the image of the work. Online audiences can search the collection by the visual characteristics to cluster and filter images according to aesthetic similarities.
The project was developed using new technology widely used on the internet and in digital projects but rarely in the cultural sector. Machine learning and computer vision were used to analyze visual information about collection images to understand the visual relationship between works of art. Elasticsearch, a tool that backs search capability on some of the internet’s most popular websites, was used to engineer the search of information related to each work in the collection.
The Barnes’s new website offers an entirely new front-end presentation and an innovative approach that provides users a way to engage with the collection online in an accessible and self-directed fashion using the formal elements—light, line, color, and space—as ways to explore.
Explore more at The Barnes Foundation.
Note: The Barnes Foundation’s new collection website is made possible by generous support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. And, the visually related results of collection objects are powered by ArtPI, the art API created by Artrendex, with special thanks to Ahmed Elgammal. Additional technical development using computer vision to analyze object keywords was provided by Sam Hains.