ARTINFO Reviews 10 Major Museum iPad Apps That You Can Download

Since April 2010, when the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art launched the first ever museum iPad app, most major museums and some galleries (read: Gagosian) have also launched apps to complement their real life collections. When institutions first began releasing mobile apps in 2009, they were mostly digitalized museum guides that contained information like current exhibitions, location etc. Now, the larger scale of tablets is allowing institutions to engineer bigger, better, more creative apps that do everything from replace exhibition catalogues to function as artworks in and of themselves. Here are ARTINFO’s thoughts on 10 notable museum iPad apps.

Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh
The Warhol: DIY Pop, $0.99

This app allows users to create a digital silkscreen inspired by Andy Warhol’s classic pieces using their own photos. The app doesn’t simply add blocks of color, but allows users to go through a multi-step process (film positive, underpainting, screening) that sheds light on the actual silk-screening process. Users have a pretty advanced degree of creative control over the image —you can adjust hue, saturation, brightness, and brush size in the underpainting stage to decide if you want to make friends look like Marilyn or Elvis. 

The Guggenheim Museum, New York
Maurizio Cattelan: All, $3.99

This highly-praised app is the Guggenheim’s first app for the iPad, created to accompany Maurizio Catellan’s much-talked-about 2011 retrospective in which his artworks were hung jumbled together in the museum’s rotunda. The app is a well designed, comprehensive guide meant to detangle the chaotic exhibition. Users are able to see the hanging objects from four angles, zoom in and out, and tap individual pieces to read snippets about them. Keeping with the Cattelan spirit, the app is weird and playful, with John Waters as app “emcee.” Waters provides an intro video at the beginning and stands in as the voice of the artist himself. This app set a high standard for exhibition apps to come. 

The Design Museum, London
The Design Museum Collection for iPad, Free

London’s Design Museum app presents works from the collection in a 4-by-6 grid that users can scroll through, Rubik’s cube-style. Objects of architecture, furniture, graphics, product, and transport each have an informational blurb and a short video from museum director Deyan Sudjic. If you’re interested in design, this is a fun app to browse everything from the classic red 1936 English telephone box to the first Sony Discman.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles
Art Swipe, Free

LACMA veers from a traditional exhibition app format in this kid-friendly exquisite corpse-inspired app designed by artist Jody Zellen for exhibition "In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States." The users scroll through images of artworks split into three parts (head, body, legs) to create jumbled, genre-spanning corpse collages. You can use images from LACMA’s collection as well as photos from your own camera. The app is a fun (and free) way to play with LACMA’s collection.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Met Buncheong, Free

The Met’s first iPad app was created as an exhibition catalogue preview to 2011’s “Poetry in Clay: Korean Buncheong Ceramics.” For Asian ceramics buffs this “interactive e-publication” is a great accompaniment to the exhibit and includes a video from the curator and great images of the objects. However, the format is bland and it is unclear why the Met chose a ceramics exhibition as the subject of their only iPad app.

Museum of Modern Art, New York
Art Lab, $4.99

MoMA’s first iPad release was for the museum's “AB EX NY” show in 2011. Since then they have also launched an exclusive online marketplace for their books called MoMA Books App. Their newest app, released in June, is MoMA Art Lab, an app for children to create their own abstract art with activities inspired by MoMA’s collection, like creating a chance collage in the style of Jean Arp. Users can select from a pallet of colors and shapes to create abstract canvasses and the ideas section of the app provides plenty of inspiration for kids like, “Draw for ten seconds without lifting your finger. Color in any shapes that were created.” It’s fun, though truth be told this educational app will probably appeal more to MoMA-going parents than their kids.

Rooftop Garden, Free

In April of 2010, SFMOMA was the very first museum to release an app for the iPad with their Rooftop Garden App, which previously existed for iPhone. The app, lackluster by 2012 standards, is basically a tour of the artworks that populate the garden with commentary about the sculptures, an interview with the architects, and a weirdly moody music video of shots of the garden interspersed with music by saxophonist George Brooks. Just so they can say they did, SFMOMA is also the first museum to release its annual report for the 2011 fiscal year in a free app called Story of a Year. The app presents the facts and figures alongside multimedia features like animations of their upcoming expansion and a video interview with artist Stephanie Syjuco.

Tate Modern, London
The Unilever Series at Tate Modern, $6.99
Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, $2.99

Before they got into the iPad game, the Tate led with several fun and free iPhone apps including the Muybridgizer and the Magic Tate Ball. On June 23, they released an app to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the museum’s Unilever series, and the opening of Tino Seghal’s newest installation “These Associations.” The app catalogues past Unilever series projects including Olafur Eliasson’s “The Weather Project” and Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” with gorgeous installation shots and texts by curators and artists. Earlier this year, the Tate also released the Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, a concise dictionary that pairs over 300 art terms with explanatory works—i.e. Duchamp’s “Fountain” is paired with “dada.” 

Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Figures & Fictions, $16.99

The V&A has released a few iPad apps to accompany their exhibitions, but the app for “Figures & Fictions,” an exhibition of 17 contemporary South African photographers, is by far the most expensive at a whopping $16.99. While it is on the pricier side, the app contains the complete exhibition catalogue, which if you purchased in paper would be $58. High-quality videos and images make the iPad version more dynamic than the print catalogue, with an introductory video that features curator Tamar Garb in Cape Town discussing how growing up in Apartheid-era South Africa inspired the exhibition. The app also contains audio and video interviews with the artists and the exhibition’s audio guide. 

Whitney Museum, New York
Tripolar, $1.99

Interactive media artist Scott Snibbe was originally commissioned by the Whitney to create Tripolar in 2002 for the museum’s "CODeDOC" exhibition, but it was rereleased in January as an iPhone and iPad app. The simple app is meant to animate “the tangled, abstract, and ever-changing forms a pendulum makes as it swings over a magnetic base.” That translates to a tangled black string that moves rapidly with the stroke of a finger. When you stop touching the screen, the figure freezes, and the work is labeled “‘Untitled’ by you” at the bottom of the screen. Compared to some of Snibbe’s other apps like Gravilux, which allows users to create galaxies of stars, this app doesn’t seem worth the download price, which is modest.