Meow Met: The Met MediaLab’s Chrome Extensions

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Screenshot 2015-10-26 at 8.25.58 PM

By the end of a busy semester, actually making it to a museum to see the art we study can become a secondary priority. Luckily, those who like cats and art–actually, many of us at the BGC–can get a little more (non-academic) art in their lives with Meow Met, a Google Chrome extension that replaces every blank new tab with an image of a cat-related artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online collection.

The project was developed by Emily McAllister, a former Met MediaLab intern (read her thoughts on the project here), as part of the Met Chrome Extensions experiment. McAllister also developed The Met Magnified, which “features extreme, abstracted close-ups of object details,” and Micro Met, which “explores ethereal perspectives of objects captured using a scanning electron microscope.” Although these extensions were never developed beyond a prototype, they worked like Meow Met to replace new tabs in Chrome with a full-screen, randomly selected Met artworks.

With the Chrome extensions project, The Met MediaLab–which collaborated with BGC’s Spring 2014 class “The Artifact in the Age of New Media”–is looking to extend the museum experience into people’s everyday lives, hoping to employ emerging technologies to provoke conversation and find new ways to explore the collections.

While the MediaLab is praised for appealing to a younger generation accustomed to incorporating new technology into their education and entertainment, their use of technology raises the question: does viewing art through these new tech mediums distort the work?  Although Meow Met might help a wider range of people discover otherwise unseen works, the Chrome extension also flattens the artwork to a virtual image–viewers lose the sense of scale, texture, and other characteristics that can more easily be perceived without any intermediaries in viewing.

The MediaLab is working on other ways to incorporate technology into viewer experiences. In early October, they launched an event for kids where visitors viewed Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)” through virtual reality headsets, which made the black and white paint appeared to float off the canvas. Viewers were able to engage with the artworks in a new way, but the animation perhaps distracts from the artwork itself. Although Pollock emphasized motion and the active process of creation, the virtual reality animation arguably provides only a playful experience that does not help viewers better understand the context of the work. Like Meow Met, critics might consider this virtual reality event an instance where authenticity is sacrificed for entertainment and exposure.

As New Media becomes more widely incorporated into museums, questions about authentic experience and artists’ intention will only become more hotly debated. But in the meantime, access to technology can be a first step to democratizing art, where the audience’s art experience is enhanced–but not replaced–by resources like online collections. So take a break from studying, add Meow Met to Chrome, and join the rest of the online world in looking at cute cat pictures.

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