Museum of Arts and Design
Bringing an exhibit to life through AR

In early 2021, a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City was looking ahead to their annual fall gala. They’d already had to rethink the gala the previous year, creating a Zoom version of an event that had historically been packed with rich conversations, art, cocktails, music, and an auction. But 2021’s event was slated to showcase an exhibit of work by finalists for the museum’s biennial Burke Prize; a Zoom stream would not suffice.

The museum, which had been collaborating with Godfrey Dadich Partners on a brand awareness campaign, approached us with a question about its upcoming show: “What would a digital version of the exhibit look like?”

The Burke Prize is a $50,000 award for a US-based artist, age 45 or under, who works with glass, fiber, clay, metal, or wood—natural materials that require a presentation style beyond a JPEG. GDP explored the challenge of a digital exhibit of finalists’ work, speaking with past winners and board members, and began to view this as an opportunity. Instead of 16 finalists displaying their art in a traditional gallery at the museum, we could design an interactive website profiling each artist and showcasing their work. This would enable audiences to view their craft up close, and even visit the artists’ studios virtually.

For works within fiber or wood, we presented photographs and videos. For sculptural works and installations, GDP’s augmented reality team made sure the art stayed true to form in the digital space by using a technique called photogrammetry. Our former design director for emergent experiences, Shawn Sprockett, traveled to nominees’ galleries and studios to capture photographs of the finalists’ art from different angles. Then, photogrammetry software and machine learning stitched the images together to render 3D representations. This gave online viewers the ability to rotate, zoom, and inspect the entirety of an object—a more immersive experience than viewing it in a gallery behind a rope or on a pillar. “Stay-at-home orders prevented us from walking through galleries in real life, but they also opened doors for emerging technology to let art lovers get even closer to the art than ever before,” said Sprockett, who previously worked at Facebook’s AR/VR labs.

To complement the virtual gallery, GDP produced brief profiles of the finalists to go along with Q&As. Our editorial team asked the finalists questions like, “What does craft mean to you?” and “What inspires you to create?” GDP’s video team edited snippets shot by the artists to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look into their studios and creative processes. There were no lights, film crews, or sets. Because the Burke Prize is dedicated to the crafts movement—“the people’s artwork,” separate from classical painting or sculpture—we designed an online experience to feel approachable.

Once all assets were collected and the copy was finalized, the Burke Prize digital experience came to life on web pages designed by our team. We maintained much of MAD’s existing identity—Futura font, a black-and-white color scheme—while introducing playful, intimate moments. The use of negative space mimicked the plain walls of a vast art gallery, and hand-drawn elements brought a sense of humanity to the digital screen.

The Burke Prize digital experience launched in October 2021. (Godfrey Dadich’s out-of-home advertising campaign promoting MAD on New York City subways and billboards launched weeks later.) The site introduced the Prize, honored its nominees, and celebrated the winner, Charisse Pearlina Weston, a conceptual artist and writer exploring the intimacies of Black life.

Faced with a multidisciplinary challenge—bringing a mixed media art exhibit to life online—GDP leaned into its digital capabilities to tell not one but 16 great artist stories. The museum said it was “ecstatic” with the results. “Huge thanks for dedicating your creativity and ingenuity toward transforming an award program into a truly stimulating visual-arts experience that everyone can access and enjoy,” said the museum’s deputy director of communications and marketing, Wendi Parson. “Best of all, the site makes a powerful statement for what MAD is and where it’s going.”

In March 2022, the Museum Association of New York honored the site with its Excellence in Design Award, which recognizes “an exhibition produced by a cultural institution that articulates content through engaging design and creates a satisfying visitor experience.” The announcement noted that, “The review committee was impressed by the multimedia interactive website and how this reimagines the exhibition experience for a digital audience.”