A blog post by Ally Rue
MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies, University of Manchester
When I walked into Die Nieuwe Kerk (The New Church) to see the exhibition of the El Greco’s Pentecostés, I was so stunned by the massive pre-Reformation interior that I almost missed the small sign on the ticket desk of QR codes. The sign was only in Dutch, but I was able to gather that the exhibition had something in conjunction with Spotify, so I scanned a QR code and—after a couple of tries—my Spotify app opened. It took me to Die Nieuwe Kerk’s user page, which comprised three playlists each containing songs to accompany the exhibition selected by classical music DJ Von Rosenthal, musicologist Sylvester Beelaert, and curator of the exhibition Birgit Boelens. Each had chosen 10-20 songs which they believed best complemented the show—the music almost entirely consisted of opera, instrumental and classical Catholic music, as well as monastic chants.
After listening to a few songs from each playlist and realizing they were all quite similar, I got bored and continued through the exhibition as usual. The show was focused around El Greco’s painting of the Pentecost, which was housed in isolation and darkness behind the church’s ornate brass choir screen and was accompanied in other galleries by a reconstruction of the altarpiece for which this painting was made, and a 30 minute documentary film on the artist.
The integration of Spotify into an exhibition is an interesting concept, but it feels as if it has not been utilized to its full potential. For example, there was very little textual information and no audio guide available, but providing it on Spotify would be much less expensive than designing an app or using senor-enabled audio guides. And it seems like the music would have been more effective played over speakers, part of the experience of listening to music within a cathedral is feeling it reverberate through and fill the space. The curator was trying to create an immersive multimedia experience and in doing so abandoned several museological conventions. Whether the Spotify incorporation enhanced the visitors’ experience, or if they even noticed the feature at all, remains to be seen.