In the exhibiting world today it is commonplace practice for art galleries and museums to offer a virtual experience of the gallery through their website. One example is the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), an art institution with a well-developed web platform.
The AGNSW is one of Australia’s most significant galleries. Established in Sydney in the 1870’s it boasts a collection of roughly 30,000 works. Having a virtual element of the gallery significantly challenges the ways we have conventionally viewed art, such as; the shift from physical to electronic sources/objects, the importance of networks & interactivity in relation to art viewing, and the redefinition of what embodiment means in the digital word.
Most importantly, however, is for a gallery like AGNSW in the online realm they are able to show their complete collection, whereas only 5% gets shown in the physical gallery space at any one time because of limitations of display space. The virtual world gives a visualisation of all that the AGNSW has to offer, essentially making aspects of the gallery that were previously invisible visible, such as its entire collection of works.
Furthermore, the gallery’s online space becomes part of a worldwide network moving beyond the constraints of physical location too. The gallery is ‘searchable’ in online networks, meaning an increased possibility of viewers to the gallery’s space, and not necessarily dependent on physically attending the gallery itself.
The current attention of the media world is focused on social media and its impacts. Social media allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content which has been a BIG opportunity area for art galleries and museums to engage people in art in new ways. AGNSW’s website for example has the My Virtual Gallery (MVG) function, launched in 2005 as a tool for creating your own online exhibitions from the Gallery’s collection. You become the curator, creating your own exhibitions without the limitations of space or restrictions to four walls. You pick the artworks you are most interested in and you can create your own text panels too, AND you can share your creations online or search through ones others have made.
Essentially you are able to aggregate your own gallery experience.
Aggregation is a form of publishing that involves the gathering or combining of text, images, sounds, codes and platforms into new forms of organisation. As Danah Boyd says it allows ‘people consume the content that stimulates their mind and their senses’.
So is this the new way to perceive and interact with art, aggregating the experience through a computer interface? Will viewers forgo a visit to the physical gallery if they can easily visit the virtual space? Surveys in England have suggested that people with an interest in the arts already are the most likely to explore art online, and that ‘the Internet is unlikely to convert those who are currently uninterested in the arts.’
Yet It’s this ability for users to ‘create’ and to ‘share’ things that is the driving force behind many successful new media sites and in terms of galleries and museums, it does open up another medium of attracting people to the gallery, and via the computer interface offers a new way of learning about, looking and enjoying art.
Something else that you may like (because it’s pretty cool!?!) You can view the entire AGNSW on Google Art Project – a project to provide virtual tours of the worlds most incredible art museums – check it out here!