I went this weekend to visit Panoptos at the Henry Art Gallery, the SuttonBeresCuller installation built around a custom-made, creature-like machine that zooms in on art on the walls. The art is paintings, photographs, and sculptures from the museum's collection, tightly packed from floor to ceiling (this is called a salon hang).

The lights in the gallery are dim. The creature crouching over the art has tentacles with white lights on their ends. These lights fall directly on the piece of art the creature sits in front of. It moves on a track that is controlled by a joystick mounted on a pedestal in the next gallery over. What the camera sees is projected on a video screen—which means that you get close up and personal with the art only by going into a different room.


If you allow yourself a little time with this system, it really rewards you. First it raises your curiosity, then feeds you rich, small morsels of what it made you want. Bodies slide into view on the screen that you wouldn't be able to make out with the naked eye, they're so small and hidden in the fields and forests of the 19th-century landscapes. The frames of the older paintings shine under the lights of the machine, making pretty pictures of themselves framed on the video screen.

When you get something onscreen that you like, you can press a red button next to the joystick. (Atari-style.) This captures the picture and sends it automatically to the museum's Flickr page, where a collection of views is piling up to add another layer to the permanent collection. Check out that collection here.