Mona Lisa meets Mario: Is the Nintendo 3DS set to be the Louvre's latest big-name attraction?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Some of the world's finest museums and galleries are embracing hi-tech guides.

There are certain famous faces that you expect to see at the Louvre. The Mona Lisa, of course, the Venus de Milo and Napoleon. Liberty, perhaps, manning the barricades. The chap who dreamt up Mario and Zelda, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto? Not so much. But then you might not expect to see hordes of the museum's 8.8 million annual visitors using Nintendo 3DS consoles to guide themselves round the historic museum, examining The Winged Victory of Samothrace in three dimensions. Because, despite first becoming a gallery in 1793, the Louvre is keen to explain the importance of its art using 21st-century gadgets.

Last week, the Louvre rolled out a wholesale update of its audio guides that sees 5,000 3D-enabled handheld games consoles available to hire for €5 (£4) in a bid to appeal to the 50 per cent of its visitors who are under 30 – but without alienating older art fans. Traditionalists could be forgiven for snorting into their exhibition programmes, but the Louvre is simply the latest establishment bidding to engage and excite audiences who increasingly expect more than crackly commentaries, dodgy headphones and printed labels.

"The Nintendo 3DS is a device that is mainly used by young people to play games, so using it as an audio guide in a museum does raise a number of questions," explains Hervé Barbaret, administrateur général at the Louvre. "There's the risk that things won't run as smoothly as planned, or that some may disapprove of the use of a games console in a museum, but I am ready to shoulder that risk and the reason why is because it is not a gimmick."

Although handing out the devices, which have two screens (one touch-screen, one that shows 3D images without the need for special glasses) is an exercise in trying to be down with the kids, and therefore probably does have a touch of gimmickry about it (sorry, Hervé), the devices are a sensible choice. They offer a good mix of basic (700 commentaries on famous art works, an easy-to-check map) and more advanced technology (3D models of sculptures) and the little black boxes, which hang from straps around visitors' necks are sturdy, as parents across the world – who will no doubt have seen their offspring' DSs bounce down stairs – can attest. There may have been a parent involved with the decision to do without the device's stylus, a little stick that might as well have "lose me" engraved on it.

But will grandma be able to use it? "All visitors, even those who are not used to using video games machines at all, or other electronic devices, can enjoy it comfortably," insists Shigeru Miyamoto. "You can follow the map and listen to the explanations [through headphones] made automatically to you without pressing any buttons yourself." Even so, visitor feedback is, he says, keenly awaited.

Having taken a tour around the gallery with a 3DS, I found it helpful, with fascinating on-demand commentaries, the ability to zoom in on elements of paintings (including that famous smile) and real-time localisation on its map – a much- hyped feature by both Nintendo and the Louvre as the museum is notoriously hard to navigate. Using it also makes obsessively photographing every exhibit with a phone camera tricky – something that can only be a good thing, making people look at the art rather than trying to record it.

Possibly not of much help to reluctant technology users is the additional smartphone app available, as well as the museum's sleek website. But despite the Louvre's desire to be seen to be embracing hi-tech tools, the 3DS audio guide is actually more of a bridge between an older style of hired guides and the brave new world of downloading content to an array of devices.

Yes, the 3D elements and touch-screen grooviness is more technologically enticing than an audio-only commentary, but the fact that the Louvre is providing the device to visitors rather than expecting them to bring their own shows it appreciates that not everyone is smartphone savvy.

While the Louvre has gone for a high-profile hardware update, other museums have different ideas about their digital offerings – although all have a take on technology and its role in engaging visitors. At the Victoria and Albert Museum, Malcolm Sutherland, head of digital projects, has discovered that in creating a range of exhibition-specific apps for visitors to download, as well as a free monthly "What's On" iPad app, the benefits go beyond guiding visitors around. "It helps connect us to audiences who have devices anywhere in the world and it's a powerful tool to use in the museum itself."

He confesses "I didn't realise until I was working on this that we have a music concert three times a month in one of the galleries. It's not just helping visitors, it's improving the infrastructure for staff."

One place that sees keeping up with tech as its duty is London's Science Museum. "We have a really long history of using interactivity as part of the experience," explains the Science Museum's Dave Patten, head of new media. "It goes back to the 1920s with the opening of the original children's gallery. We've always used technical ways of interpreting content and storytelling and we were probably one of the first museums to start putting computers in as interactive devices."

Interestingly, Patten sounds a note of caution about comprehensive moves from traditional audio guides to apps. "The biggest barrier to people using their devices in the museum is the unpredictability of cost. If you're on a free-data contract, it can be pretty much free, but it can be very expensive if you're on a pay-as-you-go contract. One of the things we've done over the past six months is to install public Wi-Fi across the site." The Science Museum, he explains, is honour bound to dazzle visitors with new ways of getting information across.

"We've done things such as running scavenger hunts on mobile devices and we've got a new augmented-reality app starring James May launching next week. We're also working on a major exhibition that opens in 2014 which has seen us prototyping transparent LCD screens where we're almost building showcases out of screens so content can appear in front of the object or behind the object so it's always in your field of vision."

Cutting-edge curatorial tools might be getting forward-thinking museums all aflutter, but new technology can also be used in a less on-message capacity. A group of artists protesting at Tate's relationship with BP have alternative audio tours of Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Tate Boat that can be downloaded from soundcloud.com/platformlondon-1 and played on smartphones.

Called the Tate á Tate Audio Tour, the soundtrack is designed to be listened to in situ and uses Tate visuals but replaces the sound with audio works by artists who have been commissioned by three activist organisations Platform, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate. No doubt this is one innovation that the Tate feels it could do without.

Back at the Louvre, the 3DS audio guides have had the slots where you'd insert games cartridges disabled (so no sneaky games of Mario allowed) and will cease to work when taken out of the museum, to keep light fingers at bay. The guides, which took a year to develop, are as you read this, being used to zoom in on some of the world's most famous artworks. The only fly in the ointment? The headphones could do with bit of a hardware update...

Modern museums: The new guides

More of the Mona

The new digital guide to the Louvre offers detailed analysis of famous works

Lost in the Louvre

The museum's seemingly endless corridors are made easy-to-navigate with this map

3D classics

Artworks like the Venus de Milo appear on-screen to explore in 3D.

Bespoke learning

The V&A have been making apps to work alongside specific exhibitions

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world