Asian Art Collection

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The Art Institute of Chicago houses thirty-five thousand works of Asian art, spanning a period of approximately five thousand years. As the website notes, this is concentrated on the geographic areas that we might expect, namely China, Japan, and India. Southeast Asia is less well represented, and Central Asia is largely ignored. Of course, this does not necessarily reflect any kind of bias or controversy, but simply reflects the cultural and geographic realities of those regions. Central Asia (ie: Kazhakstan or Inner Mongolia) never reached the status of other regions, and historical works of art are consequently less common. Nevertheless, it would certainly be interesting to include an exhibit emphasizing this area. 

The institute's website leaves much to be desired. Images of the art are quite small, little more than thumbnails, and it is impossible to make out fine details or gain anything more than a brief idea of what the piece looks like. Meanwhile, there is generally no explanation whatsoever of the work’s cultural significance or connotation. This is true even when the work is listed as a ‘featured’ piece. 

Likewise, the artist is simply listed (if known), without any discussion of their life or what may have inspired them to make the piece. In some cases this is understandable, and many works of art have been detached from their creator and the context within which they were created. However, it appears that the institute has really dropped the ball in this regard, failing to really engage the online audience. Presumably more information is available at the institute, but it would be advisable to make this available online and would likely make individuals more interested in the piece when they are able to visit the museum. Ultimately, the website is far too simplistic and does not appear geared toward any particular audience. It is effectively little more than an inventory list. 

The British Museum is one of the world’s foremost institutions, and we should expect it to have an excellent website. Unfortunately, this website is extremely haphazard, and not very well organized. For example, the Chicago Institute had clear labels for styles and periods of art, but the British Museum’s front page simply overwhelmed the user with random images from throughout the collection, including animated slideshows and scattered text. Clicking on links will take the user to yet another page, similarly designed, with no clear order or purpose. It thus took quite some time to even find their Asian exhibits. It finally became apparent that there are no direct links as with the Chicago Institute, and one instead has to use a convoluted search engine to specifically search for art from a particular region. 

This was not at all helpful. A search for China resulted in 33,703 results, mostly coins and banknotes (some from as recently as 1987), along with various fragments of pottery and even a telephone card from 2001! A search for Vietnam returned 3,127 results, once again mostly banknotes and stamps. 

Indeed, here we see the polar opposite of the Chicago Institute’s approach, as the British Museum has laboriously cataloged and indexed their entire holding, but has not made any kind of intuitive means of searching through their database. The collection is of course much larger and more varied, but also more difficult to access. Fortunately, more effort has been made in displaying the art, if one can find it. Image thumbnails are linked to much larger high-resolution imagery, although details describing context and significance are generally not included. 

The Victoria and Albert Museum has a brightly colored modern website. However, this is somewhat difficult to navigate and like many modern websites is not designed with much thought for the user. One of the most annoying things about this website is the fact that when you hover over a link, the background color changes. This is very distracting and somewhat confusing, and not at all a good style. 

Much like other museums, the Asiatic focus is upon China, South Asia (namely India), Japan, and in this case Korea (rather than southeast ‘Indo’ China). The collection appears to be quite small, at least as reflected by the website. For example, the Korea section only indicates twelve objects, although there are presumably more as the website elsewhere states that the entire museum has in excess of two and a half million pieces. 

After looking at the Chicago museum’s website, it seemed hard to imagine a museum putting less effort into the online presence of its pieces. However, the Victoria and Albert Museum is far more terse in the depictions, simply having a handful of thumbnails with a very brief title. In the case of some modern art, this is itself confusing. For example, Aggregation10-SEO32RED, paper artwork, Kwang-Young Chun, 2010, South Korea. Unfortunately, the image displayed is too small to even gain a clear idea of what exactly this is, and the museum has really missed an opportunity to engage a wider international online audience. 

Meanwhile, another problem with this site is that it follows the current ‘scroll/see more’ trend, in which a user is expected to constantly scroll downward clicking ‘see more’ links in order to view all the images. This makes it hard to actually find a particular piece or quickly browse through everything. Clearly, a more orderly online presentation would go a long way toward informing the public about the museum’s collection and generating interest in seeing the pieces in person.

Bibliography

Art Institute of Chicago, The. “ART INSTITVTE CHICAGO.” Chicago, 2018. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/asian

British Museum, The. “The British Museum.” London, 2018. http://www.britishmuseum.org/

Victoria and Albert Museum, “The. V&A.” London, 2018. https://www.vam.ac.uk/