Google Glass in the Grand Palais’s Velázquez exhibition

For its Velázquez exhibition, the Grand Palais in collaboration with GuidiGO is offering a guided visit using Google Glass.

This was my first time using Google Glass, and I was impressed by how intuitive the glasses were. It didn’t take very long to feel like they were an extension of my own body.

Google Glass, Grand Palais, Velazquez, Paris

The glasses only offer 12 commentaries, far fewer than the content offered on the traditional audioguide. When I asked the employee in charge of renting the glasses about this, he enthusiastically replied, "Mais c’est une expérience!

It was, indeed, an experience. 

How It Works

When you find an artwork accompanied by a glasses symbol, you can then ‘scan’ the image by tapping on the side of the glasses. This gives you access to a range of multimedia content, including audio, images, and videos.

Image courtesy of   GuidiGO

Image courtesy of GuidiGO

The commentaries for the 12 artworks felt like augmented reality audioguides. As you listen to the audio, images will pop up on the tiny screen to illustrate the propos of the commentary. If the commentary mentions a specific part of the artwork, an image of the painting will come up with that area highlighted. If the audio mentions an artwork that inspired the artist or a historical figure, a reference image will appear. There was also additional content, including video interviews with the exhibition’s curator.

Exciting Technology

The technology really added something to the understanding of the artworks, in new and creative ways. I got pretty excited when, for example, the three sources of light in a painting were highlighted for Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan, or when a complicated family tree was made more digestible by showing portraits of the family members for Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress. 

Image courtesy of  GuidiGO

Image courtesy of GuidiGO

The tool is also innovative in that it helps supply you with additional content without obliging you to take your eyes of the artwork itself; there’s no need to look up and down from a screen. While the tiny screen still has a presence, it doesn’t get in the way of your view of the artwork.

And your hands are free! I’m a big note-taker in exhibitions, and this was optimal for holding a pen and notebook.

Some Problems...

This is a brand-new way of interpreting exhibitions, so there are bound to be some areas that need to be improved.

I do not think it is enough to flash a series of reference images on a tiny screen for a couple seconds. The additional content needs to be more integrated into the audio, rather than just images added onto an audioguide commentary.

There is also the fact that the screen, while impressive, is also very small. For example, when comparing the treatment of the Infanta Margarita Teresa’s blue dress to that of a blue dress painted later by Renoir, all that was visible on the screen was the fact that both dresses were blue. I could not make out the details well enough to confirm that the two dresses were indeed treated in a similar manner.  

I also felt like the commentaries could be more focused on the visual elements of the artworks, rather than background knowledge. The glasses are a visual tool in a visual space, but felt as if the content had been conceived in a similar way to an audioguide.

And the price is prohibitive. The glasses are 8 euro to rent, with a 300 euro deposit. This is not an offer that everyone can take advantage of.

Google Glass, Grand Palais, Velazquez, Paris

Does it help you look closer?

Does it help visitors look closer at the actual artworks? This is the ultimate question for any museum interpretation tool. And I had two reactions on this point for this ‘experience’:

One reaction was that there was too much visual content, too quickly. Some commentaries did thus not encourage me to spend more time looking at the actual painting. These commentaries made me feel like the points they had presented were all I needed to know to understand the painting, no need to spend time exploring it. Check the boxes on the list, move on.

And there were some missed opportunities. Instead of just showing us the portrait of the woman who attacked the Rokeby Venus, why not show where on the painting the slash had been? Instead of including an additional video of the curator discussing the artist’s style, why not tie it in to the current commentary and show how the style is displayed in the artwork in front of the visitor?

On the other hand, some commentaries fostered my imagination and gave me tools to spend time with the paintings on my own, after the content had ended. These were the commentaries that were the most successful in tying together the augmented reality with the actual reality of standing in front of an artwork.

A great example of this is the commentary for the Portrait of Innocent X. It only provides one reference image and one detail of the painting, leaving the visitor with enough time to digest all the elements. This, combined with the storytelling nature of the audio, resulted in me spending an enjoyable moment with this portrait beyond the end of the commentary.     

And isn't that the point?                          

Innocent X, Grand Palais, Velazquez, Paris

Velázquez athe Grand Palais (until July 13, 2015)

Address3 avenue du Général Eisenhower, 75008 Paris  ∣  MétroFranklin-D.-Roosevelt (lines 1 & 9) or Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau (lines 1 & 13) ∣ Opening hoursWednesday to Saturday from 10am to 10pm, open until 8pm on Sunday and Monday

Butterflies, Grand Palais, Velazquez, Paris