Built with CGI and virtual reality technology, the Virtual Online Museum of Art can be visited by anyone in the world with a wifi connection. Rose Dykins reports
During the pandemic, museums have been forced to rethink how they interact with their audiences in the face of lockdowns, social distancing and limited visitor numbers.
Many have explored how to exhibit their collections so that people can view them from home, with virtual tours, online workshops, talks and events, or by digitising their exhibits. Social media also became a platform for some new museums – such as the Covid Art Museum, which exists entirely on Instagram.
And now, a fully interactive virtual art museum has been created from scratch. VoMA – Virtual Online Museum of Art – is a free interactive museum that exists only in cyberspace to display digital versions of some of the world’s most celebrated artwork, and commission some dynamic new pieces.
The brainchild of British artist Stuart Semple – who believes art should be accessible for everyone – and the project raised more than £9,000 on Kickstarter this spring at the start of the pandemic.
Visitors enter VoMA via its website, and receive instructions about how to navigate the museum via their trackpad. Instantly, they are transported into a sunny outdoor courtyard of the museum, which the sound of a running water feature and a virtual sculpture by Belgrade-born artist Misha Milovanovich.
VoMA features digitised versions of classic and contemporary artworks – all free to view – and its collections are curated by museum director Lee Cavaliere. Some of the artworks belong to the likes of Musée d’Orsay, the Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The museum’s first two exhibitions are named As We Meet and Degenerate Art. The former explores the nature of coming together, while latter is a recreation of an exhibition held by the Nazis in Munich in 1937 denouncing the work of ‘degenerate’ artists.
As We Meet, for example. features virtual versions of famous artworks such as “A Sunday on a Grande Jette” by Seurat and “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Bosch.
There’s also a reading room, so visitors can spend time learning more in depth about pieces they are particularly interested in, and a café area where they can join live chats with other visitors to talk about what they’ve seen.VoMA has also partnered with the Human Dignity Trust, and encourages visitors to donate during their visit to the charity, which aims to eradicate colonial-era laws that discriminate against and criminalise LGBT people in more than 70 countries.
The museum will also commission its own works, and will soon feature its first solo exhibition by Kenyan-British artist Phoebe Boswell through drawing, animation, film, sound, performance and interactivity. Boswell work is being created in response to VOMA’s space, alongside a soundscape created by Scottish-Nigerian singer-songwriter Bumi Thomas.
VoMA’s innovative virtual visitor experience not only breaks down physical barriers to accessing museums for Covid-19 and beyond, but also creates scope and freedom to break away from other conventions that physical institutions are shackled by.
Not only is VoMA a virtual space to exhibit, but it’s a platform to gather charity donations and investment in new technology, to challenge tradition museum methods of collection – rooted in colonialism – and to create opportunities for new artists to showcase their work to people all over the world.
“VoMA is a unique opportunity to hear the stories and histories of artists from across the world,” writes Cavaliere on the museum’s websites. “Without the limitations of a physical location, access to a museum is possible to anyone with an internet connection. The museum becomes a truly communal experience where the voices of the visitors can be added to the conversation.
“It affords us the opportunity to collaborate in new and innovative ways through a program of exhibitions, talks, screenings and events. The building itself can shift and adapt to house these new stories and perspectives.
“The museum programme will speak to the disparate and yet universal nature of the human experience, bringing together ideas and perspectives and firing our collective imagination.
“VoMA aims to become a hub for debate and discussion around innovation through the digital, to the end of expanding access, enabling new approaches. Through collective ownership, through innovation and debate, we can re-examine what a museum is, how it should work, what it should do.”