Responses by Brett Volker, founding partner, Listen
Background: The Sol LeWitt app, which can be downloaded from the App Store and the Google Play Store is a close collaboration between the official estate of the famed twentieth-century artist Sol LeWitt and Microsoft that encourages users to explore his work at home and in museums in a richer and more meaningful way. The primary target audiences are fans of modern art, but the way we designed this app allows insightful experiences for those without any previous knowledge of the artist.
Reasoning: Our solution was to develop an app that builds a stronger and cohesive narrative around Sol LeWitt and his creative vision. We also integrated a host of different types of technologies and media forms, including artificial intelligence, phone camera, 360-degree video studio tour, rich media articles, recorded audio and archival video.
Challenges: Luckily, we have been working on this project for over two years and did not need to adjust much for the COVID-19 scenario. We just happened to be building an app that works at home and at museums and works on your personal devices. However, the most difficult challenge was explaining complicated concepts like minimalist and Conceptual art to a broad audience. We ultimately achieved a through line by breaking down LeWitt’s artwork through copy and visualizing his creative process through animations.
Favorite details: The Sol LeWitt Studio Tour. We did a 360-degree capture of LeWitt’s studio in Chester, Connecticut,—which was preserved at his passing in 2007—creating a tour that enables a personal reveal of this wonderful artist who was quite private during his life. It allows a depth and a connection to him as a person. The added fact that the app has a global reach means that you are able to have meaningful connections to his work in places spanning beyond the traditional art-world hubs. Additionally, we were thrilled to include Steve Reich’s “Drumming” track as part of the sonic exploration of LeWitt’s life.
Specific demands: Bridging the gap between academia and access. We, along with the estate, did not want this app to just be for academics. We wanted to create something that could have relevance no matter your age or education. However, while we did work with the foremost expert on LeWitt, distilling that knowledge in a way that everyday users could relate to was a big challenge—one that does come through when you are using the app. There was also a large amount of content we had to work with. We worked with nearly three hundred different museums, galleries, collectors and private companies to integrate archival imagery into the app.
Anything new: We all learned a lot more about Sol LeWitt as a creative individual, but what was the most surprising was LeWitt’s impact beyond just that of the art world. As a compendium to the app, we are developing a podcast that charts LeWitt’s legacy outside of the art world from the perspective of musicians, designers and a Michelin-starred chef. We also learned about the value of bridging the enrichment of the museum experience with the secondary ability to dive into thematic matters in one’s own personal time. We feel that this will not be the last app that bridges these two different types of experiences, and we could easily see the applicability of apps like these in sporting events and live theatre.