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: https://voma.space/. 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

10 Comments

  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?
    Thanks!

  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 https://artsandculture.google.com/ 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.

  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.

  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.

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