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Memorial Union introduces cell-phone gallery tours
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The next time you view a painting, its artist could be whispering in your ear.

Visitors to Memorial Union galleries can now take advantage of an innovative cell phone audio tour, the first of its kind to be offered at an art gallery in Wisconsin.

Dial Up Art is a do-it-yourself tour of the four galleries, complete with artist biographies, interviews, explanations of processes and artworks, and exhibition critiques written by UW-Madison students. The guide has been in place since December and is featured in four exhibits that opened Jan. 30.

"People have been really impressed," says Amanda Schmitt, director of the Wisconsin Union Directorate art committee and Union Galleries. "A lot of people, when I'm in the galleries, they've never seen anything like it, and they don't understand how it works at first. Most people have a lot of fun with it."

Organizers worked with Guide by Cell of San Francisco. The firm's clients include New York's Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Inspiration for the Madison guide came from a similar program at Minneapolis' Walker Art Center.

"The thing about it is you can call from anywhere at any time," says Schmitt. "The only cost to visitors is their own cell phone minutes, whereas at other museums you have to check out the audio guide and the headset and whatever else you need. The advantage to this is it's free, and all you need is your own cell phone."

Instructions for the cell guide are in all the galleries. "We also put little prompt numbers on the wall next to a piece," says Schmitt, "so if you don't want to go through the whole tour, you can call the number and then type in the number for the piece you want to hear. You can spend an hour and a half doing the whole tour or just three minutes on one piece."

Among the new exhibits is Eternal Return, 2009, a collection of digital canvases by Brian DeLevie of Denver. Other new collections are Abstract in the Representative, Polaroid images by Zsuzsanna Nagy of Madison; Fictitious Plants, by New York painter Jsun Laliberté; and The Joy Is in the Middle, abstract paintings by Madisonian Michael Wodyn.

"A lot of people think we show only student work, but we do accept submissions from all over the world," says Schmitt.

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