Gagosian on iPad

There’s good news for publishers of iPad magazine apps, which in the past I’ve criticized for being needlessly complicated, difficult to use and poorly realized. The good news is they’re no longer the worst offenders when it comes to presenting wonderful, valuable content within burdensome and user-unfriendly interfaces. The new champion is the Gagosian app for iPad, from the storied Gagosian Gallery. That gallery represents some of the most important contemporary artists of the past several decades, and the Gagosian brand is responsible for some wonderful contributions to modern culture. Sadly this app should not be counted among them.

My Kid Could Do That

Have a look at the explanatory screen for the app’s so-called “basic navigation,” keeping in mind what I wrote several months ago about these screens being nonstarters. Here, the designers far overestimated users’ abilities to memorize obscure gestures like these and, more importantly, their willingness to read instructions.

Gagosian App Basic Navigation

It’s no surprise then that getting through the app is profoundly confusing, as its designers have utterly failed at establishing any kind of intuitable hierarchy. Moving from section to section, I had no sense of where I was, where I’d been and where anything else could be located. As I tapped around aimlessly, interface elements would appear and disappear seemingly at random and almost always when I had no use for them, video interstitials would insert themselves obtrusively and then vanish without any way to recall them (some of them were actually interesting), and all the while no clearly identifiable and consistently placed Home button presented itself.

Once I got to an interesting piece of content, its interface elements were so perplexing and so hard to manipulate that the screen itself looked like an error of some kind.

John Currin on Gagosian App

Really my biggest complaint here is that I’m crazy about some of the artists showcased in Gagosian for iPad — to name just two, Robert Rauschenberg is a longtime hero and actually a big influence on some work that I’ve been doing very recently, and I’ve been a longtime admirer of John Currin’s delicately sleazy paintings, which I find are not just great art but pure entertainment of the best kind. They’re both showcased within the app in a significant way, and with enough fortitude, a dedicated art lover who manages to get past the incompetent interface eventually discovers that the content, which includes great background material and three-dimensional looks at many art pieces, is genuinely interesting and valuable.

But it’s all so intricate and fancy and unnecessarily complicated that it blows right past a great opportunity to engage people, like me, who want to consume art easily, effortlessly and on my own terms, without the hassle of deciphering an obstructive interface. The iPad is a fantastic platform for art in a way that no computing technology that came before it really was — I really feel strongly about this — but this app is not realizing the potential of the platform. That makes me sad.

Unless of course this app is an elaborate conceptual art piece in and of itself… in which case I love it.

  1. I found this app a couple days ago and I agree with all your points. I enjoyed it for the first three times I opened it, but now I just feel the app is getting of the content.

    I was told a story in college about the photographer Alfred Steiglitz, that instead of printing these big photographs for people to view on the walls in his gallery that he would make smaller prints and have people pass them around during one of his shows. He felt that the fact that you’re holding them and making a physical connection made the art a greater experience. I believe that is the same concept works with the iPad. I view it as a perfect frame and it should be designed for with that in mind. In my own magazine I make things as minimal as possible and let you get rid of all the UI so it’s just the art framed by the iPad bezel.

    What bothers me about a lot of magazine apps is that they clutter the screen too much and instead of the iPad as a frame it feels like you’re holding a sandbox of random design elements. What Gagosian (and MoMa also came out with an app like this a while ago) does right is strip it down to what is important, but I think with a good update they could get it perfect. These art history apps can be a great learning tool and I hope more museums and galleries join in.

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