Over the course of two decades the Marion and Henry Bloch family have gifted the Nelson-Atkins museum with 29 masterpieces of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Understanding the value of cutting-edge display technology, the family then provided a $12 million gift to renovate Nelson-Atkins’ European art galleries, enabling permanent viewing of the collection. The museum’s Lighting Designer and Project Manager for Exhibition Installation, Jake Ludemann, quickly set about crafting a space worthy of showcasing fine artwork from some of Europe's greatest painters of 1750-1950.
1. Curate an environment to display the collection to the highest quality possible.
2. Reimagine the capabilities of a gallery installation.
3. Create a laboratory-like environment to experiment with art and technology
4. Provide the ability to create customized experiences for all gallery patrons.
The Ketra system for me is like when you're a kid and you get the big box of crayons— we get an unsurpassed freedom for experimentation and exploration
Some paintings in the Bloch Galleries’ collection are nearly 300 years old, with colors that have faded or shifted over time from the artist’s original work. This can make it more difficult to see delicate or subtle details — yet physical conservation work to bring out these details is time consuming and risky. If curators wanted to fine-tune the lighting on a specific piece, this required going up and down in a lift multiple times to change fixtures until the desired result was achieved. The artwork is also on display through a suite of galleries, which meant a large number of fixtures needed to be controlled throughout the various spaces. Lastly, modern museumgoers desire an immersive and engaging experience rather than a typical, silent stroll through a museum
An extensive Ketra lighting system throughout the Bloch Galleries allows each painting to be displayed with its own precise vibrancy, color temperature and brightness settings. With an exceptional level of granularity and wireless control, curators were able to adjust, view and approve lighting adjustments in increments as small as 1%, tailoring the light perfectly to each painting. The control system also allows for immediate adjustments at the push of the button — eliminating the need to go up and down on ladders or lifts to test various effects.
In their quest to control every fixture in the suite of galleries from a single source, the design team was initially considering a DMX backbone to control the Ketra hardware. However, Ketra was able to give the gallery a pre-release version of a control hub to provide all the control and configurability they needed. This technology forms a bridge between Ketra fixtures and digital interfaces such as design software, mobile app, and API commands. A user can even integrate multiple zones, allowing for seamless installations no matter how large. The team immediately jumped on board, and never looked back.
In addition to the latest in lighting technology, the design team also installed a hidden sound system with more than 50 speakers behind the walls throughout the space. This allows docents to broadcast to guests via a wireless mic and for the museum to play atmospheric music or effects during special events. Finally, a GPS-guided app allows visitors to receive a guided audio tour through their cell phones as they tour the museum
When we selected the platform I was simultaneously excited and terrified. It's a fantastic amount of capability, especially at that time in 2016 there was nothing on the market like it— there's still nothing like it on the market in terms of quality and level of precision in the platform.
Following the gallery renovation, a paintings conservator on staff was complimented by a museum docent on the quality of the treatment done to the paintings. But very little had been done to the actual canvases — the visual improvement noticed by the docent was a result of the enhanced color rendering provided by the Ketra lighting system. In addition, the museum has been able to get very creative with their special events. A low-sensory morning program developed for patrons on the autism spectrum or with sensory sensitivities has been essential in opening the door to visitors who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the museum. In one recent event, one of the museum’s Impressionist jewels, a Monet Water Lilies painting was displayed using a fifteen-minute version of the Ketra natural light show, simulating the painting from gentle sunrise to glorious sunset. Poetry readings have also been a favorite, with gallery hosts able to coordinate creative lighting effects to complement readings of local poets’ work.
While currently closed due to public health concerns, European art lovers can view a detailed guide to all of the paintings displayed in the Bloch Galleries, as well as watch a video recapping the space’s incredible transformation, on The Nelson-Atkins Museum website.
Images courtesy Nelson-Atkins Media Services / Photos: Joshua Ferdinand.