CHOICE: Art through the ears

Walk into any public art gallery and you will see visitors looking not at the pictures, but at the explanatory labels beside them. One suspects that for every minute's glance allowed a work of art, double that is spent attempting to decode the inc reasingly lengthy accompanying text. It's not a very satisfactory way of learning: at its best simplistic and, at worst, apt to confuse.

From next week, though, there will be an alternative. On Tuesday the Tate Gallery will unveil Tateinform, a personal audio guide to its permanent collection, whose uninspired name belies its importance. For a modest £2, visitors will be able to hire a hand-held unit, not unlike a portable telephone. At the push of a button they can then access information on any work on view, related by one of the gallery's curators, an outside expert or even the artists themselves. A particularly eerie experience promises to be hearing the late Francis Bacon interpret his own work. The system is the brainchild of Acoustiguide, whose recorded tours have been successfully installed at the Louvre for over a year. The beauty of Tateinform is its flexibility. The information can be changed from day to day, allowing the museum, the first British gallery to use such a system, to alert the public to developments in art as they happen. Thus they might celebrate artists' birthdays, and, on occasion, announce their deaths. Morere levant to the casual visitor, however, is the immediate, personal contact with expert analysis of the works as you view them. In a typical example, Andrew Wilton, Head of the British Collection, interprets Hogarth's painting "The Indian Emperor and the C onquest of Mexico", explaining how the artist's importance as an innovator relates to his awareness of his own technical shortcomings. So, don't read the labels; look at the art.

Tate, Millbank, SW11 (071-887 8000) 10am-5.50pm Mon-Sat, 2pm-5.50pm Sun