The World’s First Virtual Museum Is Officially Open


This weekend, in the wake of a second government ordered lockdown, the Virtual Online Museum of Art (VOMA) opened its doors, free of charge, to audiences everywhere.

The museum, founded by British artist Stuart Semple, boasts its official status as the “world’s first entirely virtual art museum”, and is created in collaboration with architect Emily Mann and curator Lee Cavaliere, with additional insight from computing experts Corneel and Michael.

Accommodating a virtual viewership

The concept for VOMA initially came about in response to efforts made by traditional museums to create more ‘digitally friendly’ spaces to display works during Covid-19. Despite their attempts to reimagine the gallery space to accommodate a virtual viewership, Cavaliere remarked that many museums had been unsuccessful. Some had even caused viewers to feel “[alienated]”.

Yet, ‘walking’ through the VOMA, it becomes apparent how much work has been put into the museum to successfully create an immersive and interactive experience for the viewer.

Degenerate Art

The gallery currently houses a range of exhibitions that hold up a dystopian mirror to the world we currently see.

Degenerate Art
, translated in German to Entartete Kunst, presents works seized by the Nazi government for their expression of non-traditional, politically rebellious values. The exhibition explores the subsequent cultural decay and creative oppression that took hold through the expulsion of free artistic expression.

Following on from the political turmoil that this year has brought, the Degenerate Art exhibition offers a significant look at contemporary artistic views, and an opportunity to evaluate “how far we have, and have not progressed”.

As We Meet

Another exhibition, As We Meet, features works by the likes of George Seurat, Hieronymus Bosch and Li Wei, and explores the ways we often come together politically and personally. Through the exhibition, Cavaliere offers an intriguing fusion of new and old to explore a meeting of minds through centuries of evolving artistic expression.

This ‘meeting of minds’ appears to be a central idea through the museum and its intended function. Semple’s motivation for the project can be understood through his proclamation that “anyone, anywhere in the world, can visit [VOMA]”.

“anyone, anywhere in the world, can visit”

Meanwhile, the official information for the gallery expresses the desire for establishing a “shared ownership” between artist, architect and audience, where visitors feel “they have a part to play, that their voices have an ear”. In line with this, visitors are encouraged to express their opinions and share their experiences by meeting in the café area. The space, becomes a function through which to discuss individual ideas for, and about, the future of the gallery.

Artist Space

Alongside the filled spaces, a gallery area entitled Artist Space currently stands empty. This is in preparation for an exhibition by Kenyan/British artist Pheobe Boswell in collaboration with Scottish-Nigerian singer-songwriter Bumi Thomas.

Semple’s gallery intends to offer opportunities to new multimedia artists whose non-traditional forms are in desperate need of a non-traditional setting. The virtual gallery has been designed to be both accessible and exciting, and will allow even the most outlandish creator to push their digital artistry to its limits.

A gallery for the 21st century

The VOMA is distinctly progressive in both content and execution, exhibiting works that span centuries from within an entirely futuristic setting. Ultimately, the digital form of the space situates the gallery firmly in the 21st century, and brings an exciting originality to the conventional presentation of traditional artworks.

The fascinating originality and architectural design of the space is still yet to be explored to its full extent. With the ability for the entirely digital space to be altered by the click of a button, what you see is most likely not what you get.

Words by Hattie Banfield


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