Are Virtual Art Spaces the Future of the Art World? | The Virtual Online Museum of Art

Earlier this year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s first completely virtual art museum, VOMA (Virtual Online Museum of Art), opened its “doors.”

More recently available on more devices, VOMA offers not only high-quality images of a variety of art pieces but also a virtual museum building, complete with an outdoor sculpture pavilion, that gives the works spatial context.

3D virtual museum tours aren’t new—I posted a few earlier this year—but VOMA is unique in that it’s a permanent museum without any kind of physical building that really tries to replicate, as much as possible, the feeling of actually standing in front of the world’s greatest works of art. And it’s available online for PC, Android, Apple, and even some VR systems.

Why a Virtual Museum?

Last week I attended a virtual talk and tour with founder Stuart Semple and director Lee Cavaliere, and it was fascinating to hear about the inspiration and process behind VOMA.

While Semple and Cavaliere’s team decided to go live with the museum early due to the global pandemic, VOMA has been in the works for much longer than that, and the intentions behind it are much further reaching.

Semple noted how galleries and museums have been trying to engage online audiences for a long time and have made renewed efforts during the COVID-19 crisis, but they’ve been slow to find real innovation. “They’re late to every party,” he said, and many of them have just been trying to utilize basic website formats, which don’t have the same effect as a virtual display space like VOMA.

The new museum isn’t just about creating another way for art lovers to experience art; it’s also about ownership and accessibility. In the talk, Cavaliere discussed the fact that the art world is “so out of reach for so many people.” While some have the ability to hop on a plane and go to the Louvre, others will never have the chance to see most, if any, of the world’s greatest art pieces in person.

VOMA doesn’t completely remove these limitations, but it does allow anyone with an internet connection to experience art in what the museum’s creators argue is a much more personal way than has previously been available. And because patrons can access the museum for free from anywhere, there’s almost a sense that they have some part in its ownership. Semple and Cavaliere plan to further expand this feeling by allowing museum visitors to make suggestions and have a say in the way the virtual institution is run.

Ultimate Freedom

As long as they can get high quality images and permission to use them, the VOMA team can show anything. They’re not even limited by a finite amount of space or a particular configuration. “When you haven’t got a building to worry about, you’re mind-bogglingly free,” Cavaliere mused.

They plan to make full use of that flexibility, allowing the building to evolve over time and showing unique exhibitions, which could eventually even include digital recreations of lost and destroyed work. The possibilities are endless.

You can visit the online museum space here: Currently on display are exhibitions titled “As We Meet,” which is based around the theme of “Meetings, conversations and reunions between artists over the centuries,” and “Degenerate Art,” which recreates a 1937 Nazi exhibition that intended to discredit the work of artists the party deemed “degenerate.”

What Do You Think About VOMA?

Is it worth the effort and resources to create virtual art spaces? Should more galleries and museums go this direction? If you’ve visited VOMA, what was your experience like? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Mara Blackwood

Mara Blackwood is the executive editor of RedDotBlog


  1. A friend of mine is a gallery owner. Since Covid he has held online live openings. He introduces each piece and talks about. There is live chat and the phone where he answers questions directly and responds to comments. He limits the time to 30 maybe 45 minutes so there is a certain sense of urgency to buy. He has been quite successful as his audience is much wider than just the local market. I enjoy the online show but I always go to the gallery to view in person. I guess I am old school. His buyers are definitely in an age group younger than me, tech savvy and it seems to be working.

  2. I’m seeing a lot of virtual calls for art. There is always a submission fee of $40-$80. Will you let me know your thoughts on these? Maybe you’ve written about them before?

  3. I think that for special situations this is a great option – like for people who are disabled or ill and traveling is just not a reasonable option. Being able to share private collections or recreated works is super cool, too. And if someone is happy to buy my art having only seen it online – I won’t deny that sale.

    BUT there’s so much more to seeing art than scrolling through images or “walking” through a virtual space. There’s the different culture, city, sights, smells, and people involved by going to a new space, city, or country. I grew up with the Menil Museum and the Rothko Chapel in Houston. The spaces that hold the art are incredible and add so much to the experience. The Rothko and Menil are ringed on all sides by houses that are all painted in Menil grey. Each building is surrounded by green grass and giant live oaks. When you walk into the Rothko Chapel on a hot summer day, you are enveloped in cool air-conditioned air and a quiet sense of anticipation and reverence as the giant door closes solidly and silently behind you, you immediately lower your voice, the light is dim, you are greeted by the volunteers who man the front desk and then you step from the small lobby into the huge but completely intimate space of the chapel with all of the indirect natural lighting, and I’m sure there’s even a smell or lack of smell there that is different than your home where you are with your goggles on. All of these tactile experiences necessarily change how you perceive the giant works of art on the walls that surround you.

    I am concerned that we, as a people, are looking towards virtual as a replacement of real experiences instead of a complement to reality. I would much rather travel to Florence to stand directly beneath Michelangelo’s David and experience that city, the people, the food, the sights, the sounds, and the hassles of traveling than wander around my living room with goggles on pretending I’m there.

    1. I really enjoyed your wonderful and thoughtful input on this subject. God help us not to nudge “real art” out of the way for the sake of the virtual. I could smell the odors of my favorite museums and feel the presence of being there and all that provides.

  4. I found the VOMA virtual exhibit to be difficult to navigate and don’t plan to return to it. Our local non-profit gallery has been using YouTube videos to share our gallery exhibits to those who don’t visit in person. We share videotapes of our juror’s talks and announcements of awards. We have received positive feedback from our virtual and in-person visitors and have increased our exhibitions’ exposure.

  5. I was so excited to see this post, and could not wait to visit the site, but was disappointed with quality of the images and ‘walking’ around was really awkward, not all the pointers seem to work, or maybe it was just me. I miss going to art museums, but for now will stick to exploring master artists there is a real adventure and some of the brick and mortar museum’s also have excellent virtual tours, which I think is a wonderful option to have for now. But nothing beats seeing the art for real and how a great work can just take your breath away, I can’t see that happen, while I’m staring at a screen… Someone recently quoted her mother saying “now I feel all lit up inside” after visiting an art museum, I thought that was a perfect description.

  6. Several of the juried shows I’ve participated in this past year have been virtual. This is in in addition to in-person shows I’ve been a part of in brick and mortar spaces. I think that curated virtual shows perhaps enable an artist’s work exposed to a greater number of potential buyers. For me, it was a virtual show that actually sold a major piece, so I will continue to try to do them as much as possible.

    1. I agree, the virtual juried show has gotten my attention. I am currently in one with the San Diego Museum of Art. Love that the audience is exponentially larger and there is no shipping involved. Having said that, there’s nothing like the in-person experience for those of us who have access to museums and galleries and a deep appreciation for the artistic process.

  7. Well, if navigating for the sake of navigating is what thrills you, its ok. However I would rather just scroll through clean, fast loading, high quality images with the occasional explanation. When focused on trying to click the right spot to actually see a piece of art, and more often than not, missing it and skewing off to something else, I do not find it a very good way to see the actual art. Being inside a 3-D building is fun for about 30 seconds.
    To put this in perspective, during the pandemic I wandered street views of google earth a great deal, so I am not just a tech-phobe. Personally I prefer a well put together website. Juxtaposition is a positive aspect, but not positive enough for me. I haven’t made that perfect website yet, but will be working on it.

    1. This is an update to myself! I had forgotten I had already commented, but was about to say the same thing again. My addendum is that I like to look at art for its own sake and out of context, so a completely isolated image on a good website allows greater appreciation of the actual art.

  8. Just visited VOMA with high hopes, and my first reaction, was “Meh.” Very awkward platform. Instead of reveling in the art, all your time is spent navigating the site. Not worth the time and effort.

    When I go to a gallery or museum, I want to walk through slowly, stopping at each work of art, sometimes moving up close to a piece to analyze technique or brushwork, then moving to the next artwork, and maybe backing away to get a different perspective, or even sitting in the middle of the space for a time to reflect on a particularly moving or arresting work. I want to enjoy the atmosphere of the gallery or museum and experience it with all my senses.

    The best experiences I have had on virtual sites happen when an actual person walks slowly through the gallery with a camera, stopping at each painting with a short commentary and close-up view of each piece. Pausing the show is all you have to do if you want to look longer at a piece, then continue. I could accomplish this on my own website!

    I’m with Pamela, who said it all so eloquently!
    Real life beats virtual reality every time.

  9. I would like to see a floor plan like Google has on their maps with streets. Floor plan would have each room with the type of art in that room. Click on the floor plan and your in the room. As others have said the navigation is a pain.

    The room I was in had a bronze sculpture in the center of the room but no way to walk around the sculpture. You had to click to a picture behind the sculpture and then do a 180 to look at the back of the sculpture.

    I get the feeling with time this will be a great way to see art. For now it is a bit awkward and not easy to move about.

  10. I like the virtual gallery idea as another tool in the toolbox for bringing art to people. I can see it being used to generate sales, boost interest in a show, or supplement the actual show with additional information. It also definitely works to support an understanding of art history for those who cannot travel. However, my concern would be that people consider the virtual art as a one to one substitute for the actual thing. There is nothing like seeing a real work of art. The texture, light, and overall presence of actual art just cannot be replaced. Good discussion!

    1. I totally agree with Bruce. Being an artist and having been an art docent at a major museum in California, there is nothing comparable to viewing the art in a museum. The visitors’ experience in learning about the artist and history is mentally rewarding for both children and adults! It’s the learning experience and time to spend it with family. It wouldn’t be the same viewing the art through a virtual museum. Yes, I could see a brief video to boost gallery sales to get them to visit, but I’m thinking a full virtual might limit your visitors from needing to stop into the gallery, just like it would in a museum.

  11. A very interesting discussion which has caused me to want to drive to my local art museum to sample its treasures once more, then take in lunch and visit the bookstore. There is no substitute for the integration of all our senses. I wish the virtual art museum world would turn more attention to all the work that isn’t hanging on museum walls but perhaps should be.

  12. Hi Jason,

    I’m curious what your thoughts are about galleries that are doing a video screen mixed in with a live exhibit and of course charging the artist to be part of the virtual presentation. Do you think this is something worth doing just for exposure or is it a rabbit hole?

    Darrel Kanyok

  13. Have just begun to explore the use of a virtual showroom to enhance the smaller physical space. a method to better engage with the high end intl clients without the travel.

  14. Thank you for this info Jason. I just visited VOMA. I find their platform unfriendly- difficult to navigate, as other readers stated.
    I am interested in the idea of showing work in a virtual museum. So I sent them an email and was returned with a long explanation that the email given in their website is not functioning any longer because whoever was checking it “was getting too much email”

    I am noticing more and more calls for online shows- I have participated in few when they are free whoever many of the latest online exhibit calls has a fee of $40 or more- discouraging and not feel enthusiastic at all to pay for it.

  15. I am a 3D photographer. A few years ago I started following a retired graphic artist from Italy named Bruno Zaffoni who converts works of art into 3D stereo images. This, itself, is not unusual, but Bruno’s skill is exceptional. I decided to share his standout work in Virtual Reality so I built a “3D Gallery” containing about 150 pieces of classic art in an immersive environment.

    Bruno visited the gallery in a VR headset. He loved it and and invited me to collaborate on building additional galleries. Bruno is the curator of the galleries.

    Great artists have developed techniques in two dimensions to depict spacial relationships in the third dimension. Perspective, size, occlusion, and shading all give visual depth queues that our brains have learned to interpret as distance relationships. What artists have not been able to do, generally, is to present a different view to each eye. This is called parallax.

    Parallax is the signature, money making, feature of VR apps and equipment.

    People love it. They wander around in Bruno’s gallery as though it’s real and they view famous paintings with added dimension derived from the parallax information. There is nothing quite like it. It’s been an emotional experience for thousands of visitors.

    The Bruno Zaffoni 3D Stereo Galleries (now there are several) are in VRChat. They can be found by searching for “3d stereo”. There is a 3D Hub World with portals to other worlds containing 3D stereo art and photography. No money has changed hands during this endeavor. Bruno is not interested in selling the art. He will give it away freely and he is happy to share his techniques.

    Let me know what you think.

  16. I think it is the future, virtual exhibitions may revive the museums. The digital future will do for visual Artists what mp3’s did for musicians.

  17. The latest new diversion has arrived! “Virtual Galleries!” Now anyone can comb the planet for some itiem deemed creative art. I’m sure AI will be of great service in that respect as well. Real artist’s will no longer be needed! I finally realize that the rapid computer technology that we trusted to help our careers, actually work to undermine artists. If this is the way “real” art is going – I will lay my brushes down now. When all the virtual images that people spent thousands of dollars on fade into cyber space, I will still have my paint to canvas work to keep me and my collector’s company. May I say that I am right along side of all real artists. I also feel the emotion that lives in our hearts. We really do want to bring vision and compassion for the beauty we see. All will be lost if we let technology take our passion from us. Be careful what you accept as a good thing.

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