Hear It Here: The Museum’s Audio Tour Experience

The Digital Museum

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Michael Neault
February 15, 2019

A visitor uses the mobile app in the Ando gallery.

The tiny, clicking gears of a 17th-century firearm. The voice of a Nigerian diviner. A special vacuum running in a Thorne Miniature Room. Our approach to audio has been anything but conventional. From curators exposing secrets hidden in reliquaries to Edward Hopper talking about his iconic painting to narration from the Chicago cast of Hamilton, the Art Institute’s podcast-style audio tours on our mobile app offer a sensory universe to explore.

As we've developed audio stories that go deeper and get more personal, we've met some amazing people and discovered some fascinating perspectives we're excited to share with you. Here are seven highlights.

The mobile app is available, free of charge, in the App Store and Google Play.

Seven Audio Highlights

A work made of oil on panel.
Distant View of Niagara Falls, 1830
Thomas Cole

Check out this 19th-century American art tour inspired by Hamilton and recorded by members from the Chicago cast. Similar to Hamilton’s revisionist spin on American history, this segment explores a painting of Niagara Falls from the early 19th century where the visuals in the canvas aren’t telling the full story.

Shades of blue circular pieces make up the body of the work with similar pieces in the top right in red, orange and yellow. The white ground can be seen peeking through.
Starry Night and the Astronauts, 1972
Alma Thomas

Last year, we gave microphones, editing equipment, and creative freedom to our Teen Council and asked them to create an experience for other teens. Among various creative approaches, they came up an entirely new concept for an audio stop by way of a fictional diary, inspired by Alma Thomas’s Starry Night and the Astronauts.

A work made of steel.
Jousting Armor, 1550–1590
Italy, northern

With the arms and armor galleries, you can see exactly what jousting gear from the 16th century looks like, but what might it sound like? Listen as we try to recreate the claustrophobic sensation of being inside a jouster’s helmet.

A work made of silver gilt and rock crystal.
Reliquary Monstrance with a Tooth of Saint John the Baptist, 1433
Weddeghe Velstede

The ornate decoration of this reliquary conceals a secret within. Curators discuss the human remains inside that may—or may not—be related to John the Baptist.

Visitor in Ando gallery

The Ando Gallery, designed by Tadao Ando, is a quiet oasis in the museum’s Asian wing. Listen as the former head of interpretation Erin Hogan, architecture critic Blair Kamin, and curator Janice Katz reveal the elements they love most about the design. (And if you listen closely, you can almost hear the space as someone quietly walks through the gallery.)

A work made of miniature room, mixed media.
A5: Massachusetts Drawing Room, 1768, 1939–1940
Mrs. James Ward Thorne

Here’s a epic tour of miniature proportions. In this clip, the audio producer captures behind-the-scenes sounds that few of our visitors have ever heard—the delicate cleaning of a Thorne Miniature Room.

Strangers in a brightly lit diner, seen from shadowy exterior
Nighthawks, 1942
Edward Hopper

While most people will recognize the iconic Nighthawks painting, the artist Edward Hopper made a point of receding into the background and rarely making public appearances. Known more for his silence than his dialogue, this is a special opportunity to hear the artist’s voice.

All in all, we’re hoping to catch your eye through your ear, turning your audio experience into a transformative gallery experience.

The mobile app is available, free of charge, in the App Store and Google Play. Many stops from the galleries are also available online.

—Michael Neault, Executive Creative Director of Experience Design

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