For many years, one of the perks of a Minneapolis Institute of Arts membership was a subscription to the museum’s excellent magazine, Arts. A large-format publication with thick, high-quality paper, gorgeous photos, and articles on all facets of the museum, the magazine was an aesthetic experience unto itself—a delight to the eye, a pleasure to peruse, a gift in the mailbox every few months.
Last year, the MIA decided to break Arts into a series of targeted newsletters, and to go all-in on the digital revolution by creating a new tablet magazine, Verso. Some MIA members were nonplussed to learn that the U.S. Postal Service would no longer be delivering their beloved magazine, and were understandably skeptical that a digital magazine on one of those newfangled tablet devices could do the subject matter justice.
They needn’t be.
Five issues of Verso have been produced thus far, with the latest coming out in mid-December. While traditionalists may quibble that it’s not “the same” as the magazine, that’s also the point: Verso is a purely electronic invention that’s only called a “magazine” because we don’t have a better word for it yet. In reality, it’s a digital content delivery system that makes ingenious use of all the technical possibilities available in a tablet format—from slideshows and videos to eye-popping graphics, curator interviews, animations, and beautiful photography—and does it all in a more engaging, entertaining way than the magazine ever could. It’s also free; all you have to do is download the app, and the magazine is automatically delivered to you in perpetuity.
The fall 2013 issue alone is a marvel—a dazzling example of creativity and technology complementing each other perfectly. At the very least, each article is accompanied by extended photo slideshows, videos, and interviews with the curators. And several contain absolute magic. In “The Enlightened Museum,” an article on the museum’s recent conversion to LED lighting, familiar paintings are shown under the old halogen lighting, and then, with the tap of a button, the colors morph and brighten to show what they look like under LEDs, which render the colors the way the artists saw them and meant them to be—in the spectrum of natural daylight.
In an article called “Into the Nerd Cave” (fall 2013), about Minneapolis artist and collector Andy DuCett’s remarkable collection of old toys, there’s a photo of the pieces to a robot called Voltron. Swipe your finger across the image and suddenly Voltron assembles himself. Similarly, other art objects are rendered in 3D so you can move them around with your finger, time-lapse photography videos show the curators assembling exhibits, and text for images is revealed and concealed with a tap of your finger. The elegance of it all is mesmerizing, and the imagination behind it is as playful as it is techno-savvy. Digital publications don’t get any better.
“Verso” is the art term for the provenance information on the back of a painting, and the name was chosen, says Verso project manager Kris Thayer, “because we’re really focusing on telling the story behind the museum.” Verso is also Latin for “turning a new leaf,” and that’s exactly what the MIA has done with its bold decision to go digital. The museum may house symbols of the past, but it’s creating the communication of the future.