ARIES: ARt Image Exploration Space

ARIES is a digital initiative begun by members of the Digital Art History Lab (DAHL) in concert with the department of computer science at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. It stems from our frustration regarding the inability of currently available software to manipulate images in a way that was truly intuitive and useful for art historians. Traditionally, art historians have used light boxes or tables on which they placed slides or other reproductive images. In the physical world, they were able to move these around at will, organizing and reorganizing images as desired. In this way, images from multiple sources were brought together and compared to identify similarities, differences, stylistic links, and relationships for further research. The transition from analog photographs and transparencies to digital image files has rendered this workflow obsolescent, yet art historians still lack well-designed, unified computational tools that are able to replace what can be done in the analog world.

Working with post-graduate fellow Dr. Lhaylla Crissaff at New York University, we have designed a prototype for a system we have dubbed ARIES for ARt Image Exploration Space. Aries is an interactive image manipulation system that allows for the exploration and organization of fine art images (of paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, etc.) taken from multiple sources (e.g. websites, digital photographs, scans) in a virtual space. ARIES provides a novel, intuitive interface to explore, annotate, rearrange, and group art images freely in a single workspace environment, using organizational ontologies (collections, etc.) drawn from existing best practices in art history. The system allows for multiple ways to compare images, from using dynamic overlays analogous to a physical light box to advanced image analysis and feature–matching functions available only through computational image processing. Additionally, users may import and export data to and from ARIES.

Thanks to an anonymous donor, ARIES now has funding for further development that will result in an open-source BETA version by June 1, 2018.

Mapping the Frick Photograph Campaigns, 1922–1967

From 2014 to 2016, the Digital Art History Lab and Hunter College’s Center for Advanced Research of Spatial Information collaborated on an online, interactive tool using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies to document the movement of Frick Art Reference Library photographers across the United States as they recorded paintings and sculptures in private collections and little-known public collections. Several such expeditions were completed between 1922 and 1967. The resulting 35,000 negatives from these photograph expeditions, all of which have been digitized, are one of the most valuable resources in the Photoarchive, documenting many objects that either remain inaccessible to the general public or have been lost, destroyed, or altered in the intervening decades.

The first phase of the development of this tool has been completed and plans for the second stage are underway. Eventually, the tool will be featured on the web pages of the Frick Art Reference Library’s Photoarchive.