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MIT Museum acquires holography collection

The MIT Museum has obtained the world's premier collection of historical, technical and artistic holography.

The announcement of the acquisition was made by Warren A. Seamans, the museum director, and by Dr. Stephen A. Benton, Allen Professor of Media Arts and Sciences in MIT's Media Laboratory and a leading researcher in holography and 3-D imaging.

The collection was acquired at bankruptcy auction from the Museum of Holography of New York City for $180,000, Mr. Seamans said. The funds were provided by "a wide variety of donors," he said, "people who did not want to see the collection broken up."

"We are very pleased that this outstanding collection, of great historical and artistic value, has found a permanent and safe home where it can be enjoyed by new audiences," Mr. Seamans said. "And we are particularly pleased that this home is at MIT, where so much work in holography has gone on in recent years, especially at the Media Laboratory and at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies."

Bidders from across the United States, and from England, France and Germany, were on hand for the auction. They included small collectors hoping to obtain individual pieces, but MIT's bulk bid-one of three-won out because it was slightly greater than the sum of the bids on individual items.

"More than 100 bidding tickets had been given out and bidding was vigorous and spirited," Mr. Seamans said, "but we had done our homework, going to New York prior to the auction to examine and price the collection, and we were delighted that our bid was accepted."

Both Mr. Seamans and Professor Benton said they had set out with the idea of preserving the collection in its entirety. "The collection could have gone 100 different ways," Professor Benton said. In a letter to the International Working Group on Holography, Professor Benton noted that the collection was "intact and safe."

The collection includes 341 lots of individual or grouped pieces-about 1,500 pieces in all. "Some fingering damage was suffered by some of the less well-protected pieces," Professor Benton said, "but in general the collection is in good shape."

The publication Holography Marketplace has described the collection as "the world's largest," noting that it includes many important archival materials. Another publication, The Official Museum Director, notes that the collection includes the first laser hologram, first white-light hologram, and early examples of reflection and integral holography."

Mr. Seamans said it includes documentary material from the laboratory of the inventor of holography, the late Dennis Gabor, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics in 1971 for his work in the field. The relatively modern science of holography-particularly computer-generated holography-has applications in many areas, such as medicine, design and manufacturing.

Mr. Seamans said the collection has been shipped to Cambridge, where it will be cleaned up and catalogued. The museum has had several exhibitions of holography in recent years, primarily works from the Media Laboratory's spatial imaging group and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

"This is a tremendous collection," Mr. Seamans said, adding that a "reunion exhibition" is being planned for the newly acquired collection, possibly as early as the fall of 1993.

The MIT Museum is located at 265 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. It has a large exhibition area of more than 10,000 square feet-and two galleries elsewhere on campus-that feature exhibitions of art/science-related works, as well as artifacts from MIT's own history.

A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 20).

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