New Digital Platform by NYU Tandon and The Frick Collection
Brings Art History Research into the Digital Age
Unexpected Collaborators Offer Their New Open-Source Software to Help Museums and Others to Analyze, Curate, and Share Art
Can 21st-century data science and visualization revolutionize the impact of art created millennia ago?
Experts in the VIDA (Visualization Imaging and Data Analytics) research center at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and art historians at the Frick Art Reference Library, one of the most prestigious art institutions in New York City, answered in the affirmative — and decided to offer the fruits of their digital collaboration free of charge to art historians, curators, and researchers worldwide.
With the shift to digital media, physical lightboxes — used to compare, organize, and identify works of art — have become obsolete. To perform all of the manipulations that they are accustomed to doing manually, experts must cobble together a solution from Pinterest and applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Bridge, Adobe Lightroom, and Microsoft PowerPoint. However, such DIY solutions are limited in the features they provide and are cumbersome, requiring art historians to shuffle content between the applications.
The NYU Tandon and Frick Art Reference Library teams responded by building ARIES, an intuitive web-based software platform now free for all to try at ARtImageExplorationSpace.com. The new tool simplifies the exploration, analysis, and organization of digital collections by allowing experts to easily manipulate images. While it is designed for art historians, curators and conservators, it can be used by editors, photographers, and even, potentially, physicians — anyone whose work involves manipulating and comparing images.
ARIES was developed by a multidisciplinary team including Claudio Silva and Juliana Freire, professors in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at NYU Tandon and faculty members of the VIDA Center; Lhaylla Crissaff and Marcos Lage, visiting research scholars at NYU Tandon; Joao Rulff, research associate at VIDA; R. Luke DuBois, artist, professor, and co-director of NYU Tandon’s Integrated Digital Media program; and Louisa Wood Ruby and Samantha Deutch, the Frick Art Reference Library’s head of research and assistant director of its Center for the History of Collecting, respectively.
Their expertise combined to provide a completely integrated, highly versatile environment that gives users the ability to manipulate images as adroitly as if they were doing so by hand, as well as a powerful set of tools that allows them to perform functions they could not do with a physical lightbox or any other image management platform. Tools include zoom features, filters, annotations, lenses, selection, tagging and meta-textual tools, and means of sharing collections with others.
“As the world is digitizing and moving from physical to virtual, art historians and collection curators seek a digital replacement that is as close to their current workflow as possible,” said Silva. “But the tools they use were designed for other purposes. ARIES is the first tool designed specifically for them, with the work flow they are used to and the kinds of intuitive analytical tools they need.
“And because ARIES is also web-based, it is portable and free of the complexities of installing a system,” he added. “This is especially important for our target users, who have little or no expertise in computing.”
Crissaff, who led the development of the system with Silva, explained that the VIDA team built the first iteration of ARIES in 2015 and has been improving it ever since.
“From the outset, we developed it as a free tool, so it’s important for us to see it adopted widely and impact the larger art history community,” she said.
At the Frick Art Reference Library, Deutch and Ruby are using the tool in their daily work. Ruby has been able to closely compare images of drawings and paintings that will appear together in an exhibition in Antwerp in 2019. Deutch is using ARIES to analyze the historical art collection of Mary Jane Morgan (1823-1885). The two art historians said that “ARIES has given us the ability to work more efficiently with digital images – everything we need is available on a common platform.” Deutch added that she even uses the platform at home to organize images from her shark-diving trips around the world.
Silva said the team is releasing new features incrementally and plans to harden the software; improve documentation, tutorials and case studies; and broaden the user base.
ARIES was funded by an anonymous contribution. Crissaff was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from CNPq-Brazil. The research is supported by a computational research infrastructure (CRI) grant from the National Science Foundation.
New York University Tandon School of Engineering
The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, one of the country’s foremost private research universities, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit http://engineering.nyu.edu.
The Frick Collection
Housed in one of New York’s last great Gilded Age homes, The Frick Collection provides visitors with an unparalleled opportunity for intimate encounters with one of the world’s foremost collections of fine and decorative arts. The house and collection originated with Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919), who bequeathed his home and collection of Western paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts for the enjoyment of the public. Since it first opened as a museum in 1935, The Frick Collection has continued to add to its holdings, which encompass masterworks from the Renaissance through the early modern period.
The Frick Art Reference Library was founded nearly one hundred years ago by Henry Clay Frick’s daughter, Helen Clay Frick. Housed in a building at 10 E. 71st Street, the Library is one of the world’s leading institutions for research in the fields of art history and collecting. More than a quarter of its specialist book stock is not held by any other library. It includes extensive archives and a photo archive that make it an important resource for provenance research. Its catalog, finding aids, and many full-text documents and images are available online at http://arcade.nyarc.org/. The Library also supports the Center for the History of Collecting and the Digital Art History Lab. These initiatives organize symposia and lectures, award fellowships, create research tools, oral histories, and have a robust publications program. The Frick Art Reference Library is open to the public free of charge.