Cloudy With a Chance of Insight: A Trip to the Autodesk Gallery

Private museums can be vanity projects -- if beautiful vanity projects -- where people who have spent their lives collecting can show off the fruits of their labor. The Maeght Foundation, the Berggruen Museum, the Frick. But what to make of a museum that's a marketing machine?

The Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco is the corporate showcase of a software company best known for Auto CAD, hugely popular among architects. Part exhibition space and part informational tour, the gallery, open twice a week to the public, would be a drag, yes?

No. The company's products are used for almost every aspect of industrial, graphic, architectural and urban design, so even a nuts-and-bolts glimpse of what they do offers a rare insight into how the world works.

Take an exhibit that's set up to look like a driving game. (And can, in fact, be a driving game, as Loot discovered when it crashed into a virtual lamppost at high speed.) It's actually a simulation of what a $1 billion roadway will look like when it's complete. What a world -- you get to drive through a civil engineering project before anyone approves it.

Or a 3D model of the Shanghai Tower in which the company demonstrates how its bread-and-butter program allowed architects to reduce the wind load, for instance, on the 128-story skyscraper.

But just as interesting are the exhibits where you can see how much time, thought, energy and money went into creating something like ... "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." Turns out Autodesk's software modeled, with exquisite detail, the movie's Jello castles, colossal hamburgers and tornado of spaghetti. Thousands of worker hours, millions of dollars and some of the cleverest programmers in the world, all to create ... "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

So, it's a corporate gallery and a marketing tool and an exhibition space, yes. But it happens to do exactly what a good museum is supposed to do -- aestheticize, and penetrate, the world around you.

James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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