Italy’s art museums reopen under the watchful eye of big data

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While Italy’s museums and galleries welcome tourists and try to recoup part of the €190 million ($225 million) in revenue lost last year, a new data project may help curators understand which paintings and sculptures will be able to attract the most attention.

A research team from the Italian agency for new technologies ENEA developed a system based on devices that can calculate how long and how closely museum and gallery visitors observe a given work of art.

Using cameras positioned close to the artwork, the ShareArt system absorbs data about the number of viewers and their behavior while looking at a painting, sculpture, or artifact, including elapsed time and viewing distance.

This could help define the “attractive value” of specific artworks, leading to changes in the layout of museums and galleries and in the exhibition schedule, according to ENEA researchers Stefano Ferriani, Giuseppe Marghella, Simonetta Pagnutti and Riccardo Scipinotti.

Although the system originally conceived by Scipinotti dates back to 2016, it has only been implemented for live testing in recent weeks, after a government decision to fully reopen museums and galleries that were closed due to the pandemic.