Art Gallery Tours Transformed by Antennae Audio System

An innovative art history expert in New York City is using technology to enrich the practice of touring art galleries in Chelsea

How can technology advance something as down to earth as a walking tour of art galleries? Is there an app for that? Probably, but one art history entrepreneur in New York City is taking a different approach. The Two Percent, owned and operated by David Behringer, is using antennae based audio systems to transmit his voice and multimedia content out to his tour participants. It makes the tour function very differently and it also creates a better experience for the galleries he visits. He calls these tours “Audio Hops.”

A few advantages that Behringer has found from using his walking tour system:

  • The guide walking backward strangeness is completely eliminated.
  • Inside a gallery, members of the tour can immediately spread out, moving to the pieces that attract them, avoiding the clumping effect that can clog up a gallery for other visitors. Meanwhile, Behringer can still provide context to everyone on the tour, while the volume of his voice only needs to reach his mic, not his tour’s ears.
  • In an especially quiet or busy gallery, Behringer can prerecord commentary and play it for his tour participants while they walk around, and he doesn’t have to speak at all.
  • Behringer can also (and usually does) play recordings of artists talking about their work, the work on view or other subjects that Behringer thinks they might find helpful.

It works well for galleries, too. Behringer says, “Galleries really want people to visit and appreciate their artists, even if they’re not purchasing. But they also want visitors to respect the contemplative environments and gallery etiquette.” The radio system makes it much easier to respect the space while still providing value for his clients.

If you like art, you may have visited galleries before. If you just go out on your own, you might be frustrated by work you can’t make sense of. A nice way to make what might seem strange at first easier to appreciate is to go with someone who really knows something about art in to give you some more context.

Photo credit: Brady Dale

It’s one thing to see a giant sculpture made from i-beams welded and bolted together. It’s another to see it and understand that it was put together by Mark di Suvero, a man who can only walk using two crutches, nearly entirely on his own. Which is exactly what happened when we visited our first stop, the Paula Cooper Gallery, which was showing di Suvero’s giant sculpture, “Luney Breakout,” a detail of which is shown at the top.

Behringer can also get creative with the kind of multimedia he uses in the tour. He used his iPad on the tour I went on to show how computer aided wood working works, via videa. For one of his beta tours, he explains, “A few months ago there were sculptures of record albums, and so I found the first song from every album and played a few seconds while you were looking at it.”

Like all new technologies, it takes a little getting used to. By talking to his clients via radio, they are interacting in a way that gives them more freedom, but it takes getting used to. “It is better if people spread out more,” Behringer says, “There’s a weird habit of clumping on a tour, even when you have the freedom to break out. People get more adventurous on their 2nd or 3rd visit with distance and it’s certainly something I’m still getting used to. I’ve reversed the ‘magnetic poles’ of a tour – pushing people away – which feels weird.”

The tour I participated in was The Two Percent’s first public tour. He’s run several beta tours with people he knows, but this one was the first he opened up online. Most tours are made up of six clients. If you’re in New York, get a ticket here. Behringer will be running a completely new tour as of November 8.

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See Behringer make his case for visiting art galleries with his look back at the galleries’ last season:

Photo credit: Brady Dale

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