Planetary, an iPad app, enters collection of Cooper-Hewitt museum

The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York is the first institution to acquire a piece of software as part of its curatorial mission.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Museums usually acquire tangible objects for their collections, but the Cooper–Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York has made the unconventional decision to acquire a sizable piece of intangible computer code.

The museum said it has added the iPad application Planetary to its collection, marking the first time that the institution has acquired a piece of software as part of its curatorial mission. The Smithsonian described it in the September issues of its official magazine as an “unprecedented acquisition of an artifact you will never find encased in a plexiglass cube or sequestered in a climate-controlled storage facility.”

Planetary is a free iPad app that visualizes iTunes music files in terms of celestial objects. The software was created in 2011 by the firm Bloom Studio.


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“The impetus for the acquisition ... is that software has become one of the most significant arenas of design,” said Sebastian Chan, Cooper-Hewitt’s director of digital and emerging media, in Smithsonian magazine.

The Cooper-Hewitt said it would make Planetary available as open-source code so that anyone can download and modify it. Bloom Studio ceased operations in late 2012.

The museum also said that its curators planned to create a new version of Planetary that will contain information on the museum’s 217,000 objects. It plans to make Planetary a tool to allow visitors virtual access to the museum’s entire collection.


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