Museums and Heritage Awards 2014 – Award winners review: Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

Wonderkamers – Highly Commended in the International category

In the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, is a new exhibition that encourages a different way of appreciating art…. the Wonderkamers. Over two years, the ‘Wonderkamers’ or ‘Wonder-rooms’ (as they are known in English) have been undergoing a metamorphosis and have now emerged as a whirlwind tour through the world of fine art, architecture, fashion and the decorative arts. Seven years after the first Wonderkamers opened, it was in need of a revamp, although the objectives of the exhibition remained the same; to let young and old experience in a playful way, how art can surprise and enrich.

Multimedia Design Agency Kiss the Frog were involved from the conceptual development through to its realisation. Madeleine Borthwick of Kiss the Frog explains, “The existing Wonderkamers was made up of 13 rooms each of which had individual games concerning different art-related topics. What we were searching for was a way to bind these individual rooms together into one big game. Some of the rooms retained their original theme with a new spin, others were completely re-thought and re-designed.”

In the new Wonderkamers, visitors to the museum follow a storyline which takes them through each of the 13 rooms. The director of the museum greets them from a video wall projection, and then gets down to business. He asks for visitors help to get the ‘mini-museum’ galleries decorated. As the clock ticks, the visitors must gather the skills they need to curate an art exhibition. Each pair is given a ‘Wonder-guide’ in the form of a tablet and this takes them through the exhibition, unlocking interactive games in each room.

Each room has a different atmosphere and offers a different experience. Visitors can dance with Mondriaan in a New York cityscape, discovering how the rhythm of Boogie-Woogie influenced his paintings. They can strut their stuff in haute couture dresses on the catwalk while the fashion commentator reports on how clothing was used historically to emphasise the body’s silhouette. They are challenged to create a pavilion that features the architectural style of the great Berlage.

As visitors make their way round the exhibition, they earn points to amass an art collection. As the clock ticks, their Wonder-guide steers them into the depot, a wall-to wall collection of artworks to choose from. Each artwork is added to their virtual collection on the tablet. Finally they get to decorate the mini-museum.

Each of the cloud of tiny rooms in the mini-museum is furnished as a miniature gallery. The tiny artworks are created by real artists. However, some galleries are empty, waiting for visitors to select and furnish with artworks gathered during their journey. Results can be received at home via email and shared with friends and family.

What is so different here is the way that the technology acts not only as your guide but as a way of personalising your experience. “We have worked with many museum exhibitions and used different forms of visitor tracking, which allow information to be carried along with the visitor, says Madeleine Borthwick. “What is new at Wonderkamers is the medium – a tablet. The technology is transparent – it feels obvious to the visitor and adds to the fun. Familes and schools groups are all enjoying visiting – some stay for hours on end!”

The project was realised with a multi-disciplinary team, which included architects Kossman.deJong and lighting design & show control specialists Rapenburg Plaza. With the help of this team, the diverse aspects were brought together to create a coherent whole: the game, decor, AV, technical system and show control work together to ensure that each individual Wonderkamer is a rich and theatrical experience. Visitors are tracked through the exhibition so that they are always linked to their results which are carried along with them in a ‘cloud’. This technology allows their own art collection to be built up individually. The tablets are also able to scan AR codes so that visitors can be guided to their next destination (using augmented reality arrows that spring up out of the ground), never getting lost in the exciting labyrinth of the exhibition.

The interactive nature of the exhibition allows people to participate, personalise and experience their visit in a new and exciting way. Visitors can not only visit the real artworks hanging in the Gemeentemuseum afterwards, many of which are part of the Wonderkamers game, but can extend their experience when they get home and see their own gallery online.