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Saturday, April 14, 2012

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Visual-virtual blur: A visitor views "The Raft of the Medusa" by French artist Theodore Gericault with the assistance of Nintendo's new, state-of-the-art information and navigation console at the Louvre Museum in Paris on Thursday. AP

Video game maker devises revolutionary console that informs, helps visitors navigate art maze

Nintendo aids Louvre modernity drive


PARIS — Paris' famed Louvre Museum is used to dealing with antiquities, as nearly all of its thousands of works of art date to 1848 or earlier, but it now wants to create a relic of its own — the institution's former audio guide.

The Louvre, which was established in the 18th century, is hurtling toward modernity and going visual with new electronic guides, with the support of Nintendo Co. The guide provides the 3DS game consoles that offer touch-screen, visual-and-audio guidance for visitors, millions of whom teem the museum's labyrinthine halls each year.

Billed as an unprecedented innovation campaign at a museum, the game consoles launched this week offer 700 recordings about famed works including the "Venus de Milo," the "Winged Victory of Samothrace" and the "Mona Lisa" — just a tiny sliver of the 35,000-plus works displayed in the museum.

The electronic guides, which provide both navigation and information, offer virtual glimpses of the artistic touches that are tough for the naked eye to see. They'll use much of the same information in the Louvre's now-shelved audio guides.

Pairing France's most high-brow museum with a Japanese technology company behind games such as "Donkey Kong" and "Mario Brothers" might not seem like a natural fit, and some may even view the electronic guide as a shop window for Nintendo. But Louvre officials say the museum must change with the times, and try to access as wide an audience as possible.

Over the years, the Louvre has drawn controversy with some of its innovations, including the glass-pyramid entrance by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei.

Above all, the console is meant to reach out to the Louvre's customer base: The museum welcomed 8.9 million visitors last year — more than half of them under age 30, and about two-thirds from overseas.

The guides, available in seven languages for now, cost €5 (about ¥530) on top of the museum's €10 standard admission charge. A French sign language version also is in the works.

Press a button, and the viewer virtually floats over, say, statues by Michelangelo, or zooms up close on the tiny cracks in the face of the "Mona Lisa" — all but impossible to see from behind a crowded rope line.

The console comes in handy when peering high up at Veronese's 60-sq.-meter painting "The Wedding at Cana," across from the "Mona Lisa." Details of the giant tableau easily seen on screen can be checked against the real thing.

The biggest benefit may be helping art lovers get around: Visitors can view their location, which blinks inside a diagram of exhibit rooms on one of the console's two screens. A menu, meanwhile, allows for a specific search for one of the museum's 50 most popular works and can plot a path to get to it. A "masterpieces" walk is also included.

Nintendo's director general for France, Stephan Bole, insisted the console isn't aimed as a substitute for a visit in person: Virtual reality isn't the same as seeing the works with your own eyes.

"The 3DS is to assist a visit that remains live — you have to see the paintings to appreciate them," Bole said. "We want to complement the real live visit."

Many visitors were spotted wandering around with the new 3DS guides Thursday afternoon. But some complained about a steep learning curve.

"The classic, usual audio guide works better. I would have to search for the information that's on this, instead of just pressing the number" next to a work of art, said Naoyuki Tomizawa, a 41-year-old IT manager from Tokyo. "I haven't played around with it enough. The navigation part's good, when you get lost and don't know where you are."

Meera Bickley, a 45-year-old yoga teacher from Byron Bay, Australia, said: "Once I figured out how to use it, it was definitely helpful. The imagery was great, the maps . . . but actually finding my way in and being able to use it, was quite complex. I was born in the wrong decade!"

Indeed, her 14-year-old daughter, Matilda Dods, said it was easy.

"I figured it out immediately. It gives you instructions on the screen. It says: 'press A to get this' and 'press B to get this' . . . it's easy to figure out," the girl said. "Mom's just challenged."

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The Japan Times

Article 1 of 6 in Business news


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