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Die Elektronische Kunst- und Wunderkammer

Towards The Electronic Kunst- und Wunderkammer: Spinning on the European MuseumsNetwork EMN by Achim Lipp [1]

The European MuseumsNetwork is an EEC (European Economic Community) pilot project in telecommunications. Eight museums from eight European cities (Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, The Hague, Bremen, Bremerhaven, Copenhagen, and Hamburg) and tour technical partners in six European countries have been involved with the European Museums-Network project. In the course of four years (1989-1992) they have developed an interactive multimedia computer system which provides animation and information to museum visitors.



a. The European MuseumsNetwork is an EEC (European Economic Community) pilot project in telecommunications. Eight museums from eight European cities (Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, The Hague, Bremen, Bremerhaven, Copenhagen, and Hamburg) and tour technical partners in six European countries have been involved with the European Museums-Network project. In the course of four years (1989-1992) they have developed an interactive multimedia computer system which provides animation and information to museum visitors. The computer system offers two specific programs based on the require-ments of the museum experts: the multimedia data input program MDA and the EMN visitor program. The latter can instantly perform in seven languages.

The EMN system was introduced to the public early in the summer of 1992. The experiences gained by all participating museums throughout Europe and the response of both the expert and the general public are being evaluated and show a resounding success. The new perspectives in handling knowledge and the reception of exhibits are watched with interest and curiosity. This multimedia technique assists with decision making. The new electronic techniques give a new dimension, allowing perception to broaden and deepen into new realms of possibility. It also makes the information more attractive. This success is due to the interaction among museum experts and between them and the scientific disciplines, an inter-action encouraged by the EMN concept. The visitors' own active contribution while using the system, in turn, gives them access to museum exhibits and links to other museum collections, thus allowing instant cultural integration.

The main part of the program has been constructed to further these goals. The Navigation process gives the user the unique opportunity to access any chosen exhibit in any participating museum. The user can then choose a work of art at whim, explore its various associated areas, and establish its individuality and its meaning. The visitor can easily gain an individual knowledge from a series of simple gamelike steps.

The technical configuration requires a network of at least two Macintosh computers (lx fx, lx cx) connected to an external 1-gigabyte harddisc, a magneto-optical drive, a flatbed scanner and a sound digitizer. The combination of 0S7 (man-machine interface) and A/UX (object-oriented database) is extremely powerful and user-friendly. The remarkable image quality is provided through a 24-bit resolution and may be enhanced by better monitors.

The most important innovating impulse for the conception of the European MuseumsNetwork came from projects and exhibitions executed by the author in the Hamburger Kunsthalle since the early 1980s.

The exhibition ART NETWORK/Kunst im Netzwerk (1986 Hamburger Kunsthalle, 1987 Florence) introduced for the first time the concept of a computer-based user-driven linkage of art pieces by means of verbal associations. Over 50,000 visitors proved the exhibition model and the integrated lay-user-oriented computer application to be a success. About 30,000 of them had never been in a museum before.


Two special programs have been developed in 0S7 based on the requirements of the museum experts.

a. The multimedia acquisition program MDA is designed as an input tool for museum scientists and educators, and is orientated towards the needs of the lay user. it is unique in its overall concept, and it is user friendly it covers most aspects of multimedia in-house production; it is flexible in its handling, processing, and clarification of all information types. Its multi-media data-design lends a hand in seven languages to the untrained &Tut user and offers a dear scope of media integrating screens.

Images, graphics, sounds, text, and video may be incorporated into information units. These consolidated, may be accessed differently in the visitor system—via hot areas in texts or images, or via indexes. Additionally, each exhibit needs to be furnished with a set of keywords; this provides the links to other objects. The pool of more than 1,000 terms has been developed by museum experts and is valid for all exhibits. The composer and producer associates up to 50 terms out of the pool and provides the seemingly boundless lirddng power of the exhibit. This power comes into play and is unfolded in the adventurous nagivation of the visitor system.

b. The visitor program of the EMN system provides two different approaches: Keyword-Navigation and Guided Tours. Guided Tours follow a more traditional way of teaching and informing. They are composed by museum experts, e.g., educators and curators, or by teachers and professors. The visitor can explore their topics by a series of simple steps and gather information, in a new way, from participating museums and research sources. The eight museums involved specialize in the following areas: fine arts, ethnography, technics, archaeology, and science. It can be, therefore, guaranteed that from this creative and informative potential an all-embracing grasp of a topic can be developed from an individual aspect. The variety of materials and sources represented by the eight museums allows the user to be innovative and to discover themes and topics, and to elaborate and visualize them, in a new way. Once fixed as a Guided Tour, the same program may be retrieved by every user.

The Keyword -Navigation is the most important, and the truly innovative, part of the program. The navigation by keywords is dedicated to a general public that may prefer a more gamelike approach to exhibits of cultural relevance—a public without specific or scientific interests which dislikes being taught. The users themselves find the coordinates of their routes through the museum landscape. The discovery tour stimulates them to find their very own interests while dealing with museum artefacts. By following his or her own inspiration, the user may get closer to the correlation between the artefacts and their meaning, motives, and values.

The adventurous tour starts with a local museum object. Once chosen, the system displays the object on the screen. Having explored different aspects offered in its information packages, the user is ready to face the attributed keyword pool. A maximum of 50 everyday life words outline the scope of meaning, sense, and associative power radiated by the object. (By the way, the content of the keyword pool is in permanent discussion, and the discussion will go on.) The user picks and clicks out of the Pool a set of terms which he or she associates most with the object: and—eureka—the system presents a number of corresponding and often surprising exhibits out of the Pool of 800 museum pieces. It displays mini-pictures and the linking words which have caused their retrieval. Following his or her curiosity, the user selects from the visually offered exhibits. Each of them may now be explored by strolling through the multimedia background information, which in tun may be-come a starting point for further navigation.

Finally, the EMN systems gives the user a summary of what has passed during the adventurous tour. The user may select which items he or she wants to be printed out for taking home (software not implemented yet).


There are many ideas not realized in the current system. For instance, the Vision of the visitor's cabinet: the user installs his or her selected exhibits in a virtual 3-D space, gives it a verbal comment and defines how he or she would like the onlooker to walk through the exhibition to perceive the intended context. The electronic visitors cabinet is your own cabinet.


synopsis of the linked items and the linkage elements, final decision and selection, preparation for the electronic exhibition: frames, pedestals, any other kind of outfit and attributes to be picked out of a special repertoire, light setting, special effects, definition of size and details; arrangement in the 3-D exhibition space, context and order.


discover and register missing links, ordering more or less specified new input, request to the experts; growth of The Electronic Kunstkammer guided by interest, meaning, knowledge, understanding and curiosity—not just systematical and formal.


the preferred route; look through the eye of the beholder, walking through the gallery space; define the mode of perception—define the way of understanding the concept of installed gallery; title at top and description at the bottom.

The target of the aimed application is to have the user experience more than a concerned meaningful constellation. The understanding user would interact further with the man-machine interface to visualize, install, and finally absorb, that meaningful constellation. Following a set of rules, the system offers him to assimilate his contribution and make it part of the game.


The EMN takes up a tradition that was lost almost 300 years ago and to which even Goethe had no access: One day in 1787, in Italy, he found himself in a room chaotically filled with art pieces and all sorts of curiosities (in einem "ganz verwirrt daherkommenden geheimen Kunst—und Gerümpelgewölbe, das die Produkte aller Epochen zufällig durcheinandergestellt" hat). He had no serious idea about the collection he was shown. He did not recognize that he was witnessing the birth of all the museums that were created numerously at the turn of the century 20 years later: It was a relic of the age of the marvelous.

In the late Renaissance decreasing interest in political issues was dominated by a more individual and reflective approach to the world: kings, nobles, aristocrats, and even bourgeois gained Identity as owners of Kunst- und Wunderkammer. The Kunst- und Wunderkammer was the place where the collectors stored and displayed and perceived and exchanged items of the most different origins on earth. Everything that seemed able to transmit enlightenment—and if it was the enlightenment of wonders—was supposed to serve the all encompassing curiosity and interest: be it from the depth of the ocean and the soil, out of the inner cavities of the human body or the studios of artisans and artists. Being collectors, commissioners, interpreters, and onlookers made them creators of meaning—meaning that came out of the context of specimens which they set up: it would incorporate an entire world view. Catalogues were made to file the wonders of natural or cultural origin, curiosities, art pieces, weapons, shells, etc., to visualize shape and form, and to record the display of the items on the walls or in the show cases. This all was not done for an anonymous public. lt was done for the circle Kunst- und Wunderkammer collectors which was growing day by day. Collectors were a kind of thought-processor and were linked by the deeply developed interest in the world's complexity and the idea of getting hold of the network of conditions and relations through observation (Figure 1). The extraordinary Kunst- und Wunderkammer could be found all over Europe within a few decades, in palaces and noble sites, from Italy to Sweden, from Russia to Great Britain: the most famous were in Ambras, Vienna, Prague, and Copenhagen.

Around 1700, the principal collectors left the Kunst- und Wunderkammer. Experts had entered the field and started structuring the collection in a new way. They followed objective criteria, as they called their business. They tore down the web of indefinite references of meaning and interpretation and speculation and fuzzy knowledge—they took them apart and cut off the red tape that ran through the collections—serving a modern, scientific, a one-dimensional interpretation. The Kunst- und Wunderkammers were not only dismantled ideally—parts of the collections were separated and declared as special collections: astronomy, armory, jewelry, technology, ethnography, library, fine arts, etc. and—they were dislocated and placed at different institutions and buildings. The concept, that tried to get hold of universality in the Kunst- und Wunderkammer was finished. From here the modern specialized expert museums started.


At the climax of the age of the marvelous, around 1600, the philosopher, Francis Bacon, conceived a project that would occur outside in the open air. A huge area provided all facilities to install an all encompassing Kunst- und Wunderkammer in the sense of an authentic environment. There were lakes, gardens, stables, libraries, research laboratories, and huge cabinets to encapsulate the universal of what Man and Nature have brought to light.



At almost the same time artists created pocket editions of the Kunst- und Wunderkammer: gallery paintings and special cabinets, called Kunstkammer-Schrank. Such a cabinet was not for hiding away belongings, for example, although it had numerous drawers, secret boxes, etc. The Kunstkammer-Schrank was dedicated to keep and to display a supreme composition of rare and meaningful man-made objects and natural specimen, a selection of "naturalia" and "arteficialia." Such a Kunstkammer-Schrank had been specially made for one of those nobles and was designed for only one reason: for looking, reflecting, and absorbing the spirit of the whole conception. As this was not too easy even for a nobleman, he could get some help: if you were King Gustav Adolf II of Sweden, for example, Mr. Hainhofer, the famous producer, craftsman, and artist from Munich, would give you a guided tour through this cabinet. He would show you one specimen after another and tell you how to read it, how their singularity is interpreted, how the scope of the universe is represented, and how their references reflect universality—indeed, this was the aim of the Kunstkammer-Schrank: to indicate and transmit the universal consciousness of being a part, and of being an explorer, and designer, and wheel of the world—Vanitas included. Such a cabinet was understood as a model of a model of that which was housed in smaller or bigger spaces in residences: A Kunst- und Wunderkammer en miniature.

Gallery paintings

Gallery paintings referred directly to given Kunstkammers. These depicted Kunstkammers had developed in the meantime and presented a more specific collection, although all categories of exhibits might be on display. But you can easily recognize the change: art pieces play the major role, as in the collection of the Dutch businessman, van der Geest. The Kunstkammer is on stage now: besides numerous exhibits, the painting introduces different social circles as aspects of van der Geest's activity as collector: high social ranking guests like the Archduke and Archduchess of the Nether-lands, the Burgomaster of Antwerp, the King of Poland, the Master of the Mint, the famous artists, Rubens and van Dyck—and van der Geest as a link to the next group of important collectors and consultants. Furthermore, on the right side are groups of painters and sculptors, all of them deeply involved in seeing and talking.

The Kunstkammer gallery is shown as a meeting place for the aristocracy and bourgeoises as far as they are connoisseurs of art: collectors, consultants—and artists. And as a meeting place for specific exhibits: well-known bronzes by Giovanni da Bologna, large copies of classical and Renaissance statuary, ancient coins, reliefs, busts of Nero and Seneca, majolica pieces, watches, armillary spheres, astrolabes, and most impressive paintings by Rubens, Vranx, Wildens, van Eyck, Massys, Bruegel, Flors, Aertsen, van Noort, etc.. All of them specifically establishing van der Geest's position and intention.

As the art historian Julius Held stated some decades ago: The picture reveals a more complex structure and meaning than appears at first sight. Thus, the painting of van der Geest's gallery can neither be regarded as the rendering of a specific historical event nor as a faithful record of the contents or the arrangement of the collection at a given moment. lt seems rather to be a condensation into one picture of van der Geest's role in society and as friend of the arts. This theme reaches its climax in the inscription above the door: Vive lEsprit. The people and exhibits depicted in the painting had been in the gallery of van der Geest—but most of them had never met each other at this spot in reality. In fact, they had visited the Kunstkammer within the range of some ten or twenty years—one by one.
That the depicted event is happening on one canvas now is resulting from a concept developed by the commissioner of the painting and the painter—by van der Geest and van Haecht.Der Galeriebesuch - ein Riesenpuzzle

Being aware of the possibilities of artificial images, they tried out almost everything to visualize their concept: they shifted times, places, occasions, meetings, persons, exhibits, even the architecture, to follow their idea of weaving a special context by visual means.

Isn't this interesting?: the painter of the gallery painting Willem van Haecht, charged with keeping the collection, enters the scene through the arch. He is contributing manifold and self-consciously to the collection, not only as curator. In the middle front of his gallery painting, just in the centre, he has placed his newest painting: the Danae, to whom Zeus appeared as a shower of gold coins floating over her (Figure 2).

Thus Kunstkammer paintings are the complex realization of concepts. They are not archives. They are set up as nets of interrelations and presenting contexts of understanding and representation. Instead of just recording reality, the invention and design of a gallery painting is using reality: congruence of time, space, and action is not binding anymore; the anticipation of seemingly limitless manipulations of the visual world allows the visualization of references, interests and life style—but, you have to be able to read the code, know about the location, neighbourhood, space, environment, communication, social interaction, politics—and people. If this knowledge is not at hand any longer, the painting will be misunderstood, its invention will be lost.


In the context of Kunstkammer intentions you may associate Duchamp's Boite en Valise or Lissitzky's Gallery Room in Hannover. Aby Warburg, Walter Benjamin, Andre' Malraux and others were envisioning something like an infinite global museum. With respect to reproducing photographs, they discussed extraordinary access possibilities and differentiated approaches to the heritage of mankind. Limitations in time and space seemed to be overcome. They thought of new perspectives to understand and to create meaning in the visual world. New theoretical concepts were needed.

Let me pinpoint a proposal made by Karl Jesberg in the late 1960s. His answer to the demand for new, unified science and with corresponding demands on cultural life was the concept of the Gesamtmuseum. The diversity and singularity of the museums that edst in a given region should remain untouched. The museums would attend more than ever to their particular collection fields, but would give away representative parts of their collections to be integrated in a central, large, broadly conceived museum situated near a university In this place of education and research, of learning and pleasure—open and accessible to all—the museums objects become objects of perception—freed of any aura. The self-guided visitor chooses out of an immeasurable storage magazine by keyboard, the mechanical museum offers him original after original. A painting is driven out of its "parking place" by a ghost-like hand, a figure slides by in a display case, an object appears on the elevator out of the &tot-.Art, ethnology, technology—every area is at hand. Indeed a service which has insurmountable limits not only for conversational reasons, but at least because of tat it had to remain a game of theory, like the Perfect Kunst- und Wunderkammer of Francis Bacon.


Referring to the state of the art more than 350 years ago, having in mind different approaches of remodelling, the EMN is a Kunst- und Wunderkammer —primarily an electronic one. With reference to what the owner as collector and the curator as painter of the Kunst- und Wunderkammer are setting up, we are envisioning the Electronic Visitor's Cabinet: the visualized creation of context and meaning. Electronically it overwhelms the barriers between the museum collections and unifies them in the virtual museum. Special access tools do not merely allow access. The interactive keyword navigation structures the selection and offers the most challenging linking of exhibits. Words and images, terms and non-verbal impressions are bound together and stimulate the onlooker to both seeing and thinking.

The EMN system had 800 museum exhibits in its database by the end of 1992. Each of them was furnished with a wealthy Pool of ke3rwords; additionally there are over 4,000 multimedia information packages, containing up to ten screens. In all these are several thousand images in black and white or colour, imbedded into texts and many sound documents. Conducted through the MDA, the database of the EMN is dynamically growing. The memory is extendable; multimedia production is easy to learn. The principles of Guided Tour and Keyword Navigation prevent the boredom of a data cemetery. Each museum may extend the data pool as it likes. This may be carried out not only by museum professionals but also by experts of all kinds. The system may be installed in every museum. There are no restrictions.


From my experiences since the Art Network exhibition in 1986 I can tell that it will reach many unexpected users. Museum experts might call them the wrong people: those people who never would have entered the nineteenth-century museum, but who are ready to start interactive and intellectual action, to practice multifold visual and verbal communication (not just electronic, they ask for our documentation), and to gain entertainment and intellectual profit—enlightenment and an outlook to further, real life size engagement.

Probably the Kunst- und Wunderkammer originators would have been delighted by their desire to grasp things, to combine and interpret them, from their own personal point of view. They would have liked them installing their own electronic visitor's cabinet, anchoring their exegesis of a concerned meaningful constellation in the system—and leaving it open to whom it would light up.

(*)This essay is based on an introductory speech at the International Congress on Hypermedia and Interactivity in Museums ICHIM 1991 in Pittsburgh by Achim Lipp. The Kunst- und Wunderkammer had attracted him since 1975, and he started Vive L'Esprit, a large scale painting project with reference to van der Geest's art gallery (1628).



These 12 screens represent an extract of a session held by Peter, a 21-year-old student, on the premises of the education department of the Hamburger Kunsthalle:

Screen 1. Main Screen of the chosen exhibit; after having had a closer look to the painting Christ as Man of Sorrow, by Meister Francke via Full Screen, and after having explored different information packages like Selfsacrifice, Modern Martyrs and others, Peter clicked for

Screen 2. Navigation; from his point of interest he selected keywords out of the Pool of 50 terms and got the

Screen 3. Hit List, which showed his Christ in a net of 8 further, unexpected exhibits with his selected terms; as he wasn't really satisfied with the collection he tried out another set of keywords.

Screen 4. He was offered a new net of matches; he examined the offer of the new Hit List and viewed the thumb nail images: John, Murderer by Dix; Christ by Trübner; Madonna by Munch; a presentation of Transitorines; Bora by Massys; Pierre de Viessant from the Calais group by Rodin; a Selfporträt in sorrow, and a Gothic altarpiece. He decided to bridge to Munch's Madonna.

Screen 5. The Main Screen paved the way to the wealth of further information.

Screen 6. From the Information Menu he selected different packages, for instance:

Screen 7. The "Life-frieze" and

Screen 8. Variations of the Madonna.

Screen 9. After having studied the different information packages he felt ready to switch to the keyword navigation. He made his choice of terms, and then got a new Hit List, offering the linkage of the Madonna to another 8 exhibits: Bathseba, Ullysses, The Kiss by Brancusi, John, Murderer again, a Chinese female figurine, etc.—he decided to see

Screen 10. Manet's Nana. After viewing the image and some details for a while he considered it interesting to build a pathway spanning from crucified Christ showing his wound, to Nana offering her love and body to the viewer; from heavenly to earthly lust as he would name his linkage. Further information then deepened his interest, like:

Screen 11. Parisien shoes from 19th century or

Screen 12. A brief history of body deforming underwear and the ideal body.

This and more encouraged him to further exploration of the information and navigation capacity of the application. And he thought it a very good idea to work with a machine which incorporates more the principles of finding than of searching. A machine that allows the fuzzy interest of a non expert user (what he considered himself to be) to sensefully match with fuzzy objects. Fuzzy, that is valid for both, for artefacts and lay users, he agreed.


  1. Visual Resources, Vol. X, pp. 101-118, ©Gordon and Breach Science Publishers S.A., 1994
  2. references