Museums displace objects, particularly religious images, from the context for which they were made. In standard presentations of Japanese Buddhist art, museum visitors do not receive detailed information about how the images were made, why they were commissioned, and how they were worshipped. Cognizant of these issues, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston under Okakura Kakuzō, one of the first curators of Asian art in the United States, constructed the Buddhist Temple Room in 1909 to familiarize American audiences with the spatial context for Japanese Buddhist sculptures.
Now in the 21st century, the MFA has been exploring the potential of presenting the narratives surrounding Buddhist sculptures and temples to contemporary museum audiences with the assistance of digital technology in the program “Conservation in Action: Japanese Buddhist Sculptures” in its galleries and a pilot interpretation project. Applying technologies such as CT scans, photogrammetry, and virtual and augmented reality, the MFA has been on the cutting edge in the study of Japanese Buddhist sculpture and the presentation of the temple context. In its studies the museum’s curators and conservators have collaborated with the Nara National Museum, Tokyo National University of the Arts, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The project’s gallery/conservation studio/public classroom setting has allowed for the resulting research to be immediately shared with the general public as well as the academic community.
This roundtable aims to facilitate a discussion around the use of digital technology, not only for research, but also for education in the public classroom of the museum gallery. Anne Nishimura Morse (Senior Curator) will lead the discussion, providing an overview of the project. Eve Mayberger (Assistant Conservator) will contribute expertise in using digital technology in conservation. Linsly Boyer (Associate Conservator) will share her insights on its application for education/outreach programs. Tomoko Nagakura (Assistant Curator) will discuss the museum’s academic engagement in this project with Tokyo National University of the Arts and MIT, and Takehiko Nagakura (Associate Professor, Computation Group, Department of Architecture, MIT) will provide his perspective on designing experiences for a museum gallery using immersive and interactive technology.