Art Institute uses web to promote Lichtenstein show

The BIG art event in Chicago this summer is a major retrospective of the work of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.  The exhibition has just opened at the Art Institute of Chicago and runs through Sept. 3.

A major — some might call it a blockbuster — art show in this modern era calls for a major web presence to enhance the experience for  Lichtenstein aficionados who have already seen the show or plan on seeing it, as well as those who may not be so familiar with the artist and his work.

For this site attached to the Lichtenstein exhibition, the Art Institute turned to Blue State Digital, a New York-based digital agency that also happens to have a major presence in Chicago at the moment as the digital agency working on President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.

Blue State is no stranger to Obama.  The agency also handled digital work for his first successful bid for the highest office in the land.

But until the Lichtenstein project turned up on its doorstep, Blue State had no experience developing a web site for a major art exhibition.  It does now, however.  Though the Art Institute’s internal planning for the Lichtenstein exhibition was spread out over five years, Blue State had only a matter of months to plan and execute the related site.

Online product is distinctive for several reasons 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Lichtenstein site is something called the BSD folks call “the slider.” It is in essence a thin black line that slides horizontally across drawings or sketches of several Lichtenstein’s works. As the black line moves across a sketch, for instance, we see the final artwork materialize before our eyes.  This bit of digital magic deftly allows viewers an insight into how Lichtenstein actually created his artworks.

But the site offers more than this nifty “slider” trick.  According to Chris Royalty, BSD’s director of creative process and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, the site is designed to convey a sense of the exhibition as something happening in real time.  There is, for instance, a blog at the site that provides timely updates about the exhibition, as well as a constantly-refreshed list of events related to the exhibition.

Blue State also wanted to incorporate a video component. So one can watch commentary from exhibition curator James Rondeau, as well as Lichtenstein’s widow Dorothy. An animated video of a Lichtenstein work that the band U2 showed during a 1997 tour also is part of the site’s video package.

Site includes page to become an Art Institute member

In addition to these components, the Lichtenstein site includes a link to a page where visitors can become a member of the Art Institute.  Membership fees are an important source of funding for any not-for-profit institution such as the Art Institute.

And Royalty noted that because the Lichtenstein exhibition is likely to draw a much larger crowd than the typical Art Institute show, it was important to use the event and the accompanying web site to try and build a larger, loyal base of Art Institute supporters.

Of course, in the short time Blue State had to create the site, much thought also was given to its overall look.  Like the Lichtenstein aesthetic, the site has a bright pop art feel.  And there was never any doubt at BSD about the overarching reason for the site’s existence.

“Above all, we felt the site should be first and foremost about Lichtenstein and his work,” added Royalty. 

Right now, Blue State has no additional projects from the Art Institute slated.  But because this effort went smoothly, Royalty is hopeful it will result in more work with the art museum that is so closely aligned with his alma mater.

Contact Lewis Lazare at