Are existing museums and galleries suitable to display digital art?
Digital art has been in the forefront of the art industry in recent years. Unlike paintings and sculptures, museums and galleries appear hesitant about displaying digital art, not less about conserving and preserving the digital files of the artworks. For digital art today, how are museums and galleries showcasing them to visitors and customers? For many visitors, it may be one of the first experiences of seeing and experiencing digital art, so the spaces for digital art act as its blank canvas that may make or break a visitor’s interest in this medium. While museum, gallery and exhibition design specialists have better known spatial criteria to best display paintings and sculptures, are existing museums and galleries suitable to display digital art?
Until 2020, a Museum of Digital Art (MuDA) existed in Zurich, Switzerland. Opened by the non-profit association Digital Arts Association, it was the continent’s first physical museum dedicated to digital art. Unfortunately, the museum was only operational for five short years because of Covid-19’s disruptions as it operated with private funding only. While MuDA was in operation, the museum aimed to showcase physical installations that appeal to multiple senses; the team at MuDA believed that art that is displayed on screens only could just as well be enjoyed at home. This unique perspective poses an interesting brief on what one may do differently to provide a different experience for digital art?
In 2006, the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York, United States opened a dedicated department for new media that also includes a starting point for the preservation of digital art. One notable exhibition was Manifest.AR’s exhibition that questioned the physical boundaries of traditional institutions regarding digital art. Also in the US is the Whitney Museum of American Art. Under the leadership of Christiane Paul, Adjunct Curator of Digital Art at the Whitney Museum, the museum has exhibited a collection of digital art spanning over fifty years. The exhibitions provided a seal for the Whitney Museum to be one of the leading museums for digital art in the world.
In London, United Kingdom, few museums and galleries display digital art. Opened whilst the building was still in construction for 180 The Strand, which houses Soho House’s new location in London, 180 The Strand is one to follow for digital art. Since the downtime of about two years due to Covid-19, the lineup of exhibitions has been focused on digital art from new digital artists to better known digital artists. 180 The Strand’s ability to showcase some interesting digital art has to do with its unique space - from a large ramp that looks to be inherited from the existing building’s car park, to the decently spaced columns that provides unobstructed views to some of the large screens used to display digital art, 180 The Strand is a key space in London to lookout for digital art.
Although the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London, UK was founded to showcase contemporary art of all types, digital art has been showcased numerous times at the ICA. From its programme, the digital art or labelled as ‘new media’ exhibitions have been focused on digital art made by British artists. Other notable museums and galleries that have displayed digital art in the UK as well are the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park.
In Asia, Japanese art collective teamLab, who is an interdisciplinary group of technologists whose collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, science, technology, and the natural world have showcased some of the best digital art experiences. Local museum goers as well as international travellers make it a destination to visit some of teamLab’s specially built exhibition spaces. From utilising existing landscapes within natural parks as their canvas to manipulating the interiors of floors mixed with digital projections, such as those seen in teamLab’s Borderless exhibition.
On the other extreme of physical spaces to display artworks may be virtual spaces. Envisioning a possible future in the virtual art world is the Virtual Online Museum of Art (VOMA). It is the world’s first completely virtual museum showcasing artworks on the museum’s computer generated building, allowing visitors to visit the virtual world from a new perspective to provide an alternative method to experience art. Built using three dimensional computer graphics game engine Unreal Engine, VOMA showcases itself as “an art museum for everybody” - anyone with an internet connection and a device to access it. On its experiential level, visitors can access VOMA’s website via a browser, through an installed VOMA programme and even accessible via the Oculus. Still in its early days, VOMA’s Director Lee Cavaliere’s vision for the museum is to “become a hub for debate and discussion around innovation through the digital, to the end of expanding access, enabling new approaches.” The questions about what a museum is, how it should work, and what it should do was also questioned by Cavaliere.
As digital art becomes more prevalent to museum goers, combined with the widespread interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) art, possible innovation in the spaces to display and experience digital art is currently a fertile ground to test, iterate and re-iterate. With the increasing interest in digital art, the coming months may be the opportunity to plant the seeds for the future of digital art museums and galleries.
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