Smartify, a Shazam for Art, Lets You Use Your Phone to Scan, Identify & Learn About Major Works of Art

Not so long ago, art muse­ums were known as tem­ples of qui­et con­tem­pla­tion, despite dai­ly inva­sions by rau­cous school groups.

Now, the onus is on the muse­ums to bring the moun­tain to Mohammed. Those kids have smart­phones. How long can a muse­um hope to stay relevant—nay, survive—without an app?

Many of the muse­ums who’ve already part­nered up with Smar­ti­fy—an app (Mac-Android) that lets you take a pic­ture of art­work with your phone and instant­ly access infor­ma­tion about them—have exist­ing apps of their own in place: the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art in New York, the Her­mitage in St. Peters­burg, Amsterdam’s Rijksmu­se­um, to name a few.

These insti­tu­tion­al apps pro­vide vis­i­tors with an expand­ed view of the sort of infor­ma­tion one com­mon­ly finds on a muse­um card, in addi­tion to such prac­ti­cal­i­ties as gallery lay­outs and cal­en­dars of events. More often than not, there’s an option to “save” an art­work the vis­i­tor finds captivating—no word on what this fea­ture is doing to post­card sales in muse­um shops, so per­haps print isn’t dead yet.

Giv­en all the muse­um apps free for the down­load­ing, for whom is Smar­ti­fy, a “Shaz­am for art,” intend­ed?

Per­haps the glo­be­trot­ting muse­um hop­per eager to con­sol­i­date? Its devel­op­ers are adamant that it’s intend­ed to com­ple­ment, not replace, in-per­son vis­its to the insti­tu­tions where the works are housed, so arm­chair muse­um goers are advised to look else­where, like Google Arts & Cul­ture.

Per­haps the biggest ben­e­fi­cia­ries will be the small­er gal­leries and muse­ums ill equipped to launch free­stand­ing apps of their own. Smartify’s web­site states that it relies on “annu­al mem­ber­ship from muse­um part­ners, in-app trans­ac­tions, adver­tis­ing and data sales to rel­e­vant arts organ­i­sa­tions.”

Ear­ly adopters com­plained that while the app (Mac-Android) had no trou­ble iden­ti­fy­ing famous works of art, it came up emp­ty on the less­er-known pieces. That’s a pity as these are the works vis­i­tors are most like­ly to seek fur­ther infor­ma­tion on.

One of the devel­op­ers com­pared the Smar­ti­fy expe­ri­ence to vis­it­ing a muse­um in the com­pa­ny of “an enthu­si­as­tic and knowl­edge­able friend telling you more about a work of art.”

Maybe bet­ter to do just that, if the option exists? Such a friend would not be ham­pered by the copy­right laws that ham­per Smar­ti­fy with regard to cer­tain works. A friend might even stand you a hot choco­late or some pricey scone in the muse­um cafe.

At any rate, the app (Mac-Android) is now avail­able for vis­i­tors to take for a spin in 22 dif­fer­ent muse­ums and gal­leries in the UK, US, and Europe, with the promise of more to come.

Those whose knowl­edge of art his­to­ry is vast are like­ly to be under­whelmed, but it could be a way for those vis­it­ing with kids and teens to keep every­one engaged for the dura­tion. As one enthu­si­as­tic user wrote:

As a child­hood Poke­mon fan and avid art fan, this is a dream come true. This is like a Pokedex for art lol. If you ever watched the ani­me, Ash Ketchum would scan a Poke­mon with his Pokedex and get the details of its name, type, habits, etc. This app does that but instead of scan­ning mon­sters, it scans and ana­lyzes art work then gives you the load (sic) down about it.

Those with Inter­net pri­va­cy con­cerns may choose to heed, instead, the user who wrote:

Be aware, they want to gath­er as a “side effect” your pri­vate art col­lec­tion. I just want­ed to try it out with some of my art pieces (Gün­ther Förg, Richter, etc) but it does­n’t work if you don’t give them your loca­tion data. Be care­ful!


Muse­ums and Gal­leries Whose Images/Art Appear in Smar­ti­fy as of Jan­u­ary 2018


J. Paul Get­ty Muse­um

Los Ange­les Coun­ty Muse­um of Art (LACMA)

Lagu­na Art Muse­um

Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Pho­tog­ra­phy

Freer | Sack­ler Gal­leri­es­The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

The Met Clois­ters



The Bowes Muse­um

Mid­dles­brough Insti­tute of Mod­ern Art

Ben Uri Gallery

The Wal­lace Col­lec­tion

Roy­al Acad­e­my of Arts

Nation­al Gallery

Sculp­ture in the City




Rijksmu­se­um Twen­the

Lit­tle Beaux-Arts

Museo Cor­rer

Museo San Dona­to (MPSArt)

The State Her­mitage Muse­um

The Pushkin Muse­um of Fine Arts


Down­load Smar­ti­fy for Mac or Android.

via Dezeen

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Google’s Free App Ana­lyzes Your Self­ie and Then Finds Your Dop­pel­ganger in Muse­um Por­traits

1.8 Mil­lion Free Works of Art from World-Class Muse­ums: A Meta List of Great Art Avail­able Online

Where to Find Free Art Images & Books from Great Muse­ums, and Free Books from Uni­ver­si­ty Press­es

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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