A Visual Exploration … of two museum collections

A research project on interactive visualization that provides access to a selection of objects from two collections of the Berlin State Museums (SMB/SPK) juxtaposing fine art paintings with everyday artifacts.

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Most collection interfaces present artifacts in classic linear arrangements of object-related information and images, which can be researched using a full-text or faceted search. This form of information display and search offers limited support for associative, curiosity-driven browsing and thus does only minimal justice to the extensive collection holdings. Major challenges arise from the heterogeneity of the holdings, the different levels of systematic classification, the varying data situations, and the lack of representation of semantic links beyond and between the collections.

The overarching goal of this iterative and interdisciplinary research project is to move away from object-centeredness and reflect on the uniqueness and diversity of museum collections alike. A particular ambition is to reveal resonances across the boundaries of collections and to devise evocative and interactive arrangements that invite for their associative exploration. To this end, two collections of the Berlin State Museums (SMB/SPK) serve as a case study, bringing together works of fine art and everyday objects from the period of the 19th century. The project is carried out in close collaboration with the Visitor Journeys team of the museum4punkt0 project.

The result is an interactive visualization for exploration that relates and visually connects the objects through transitions between a global overview and similarity paths. Using a similarity algorithm, the objects are arranged by image and title similarity in the global overview which constitutes the starting point for exploration. To support orientation among the machine-generated arrangement, keywords have been added in close collaboration with and critical consideration by collection experts. When selecting an object, the path view offers a detail view and further information, while also listing other objects of the collections by descending image and title similarity.