“When is a gallery not a gallery? When it is a virtual, moveable feast.” Sophie Wilson, 2015.

Thinking about the differences between physical and digital museums and galleries, I decided to re-visit Eugene Dillenberg’s article What, if Anything, is a Museum?, which strongly argues that a museum can only be called a museum if it has a physical building and holds exhibitions.

Even though technology, museum practice, and public expectations are constantly evolving and changing, I believe that the core of museological practice is the relationship between the institution, the public, and the collection. Visiting an online museum or gallery provides a very different kind of visiting experience from its physical counterpart. Often, different platforms and applications are utilised to enable the public to explore and engage with the collections in new and exciting ways. If this is a medium through which an institution/public relationship can be developed and maintained, why shouldn’t they be allowed to define themselves in the same way as a physical museum? Should they be disregarded due to their lack of brickwork?

In part, I do understand and agree with Dillenberg’s views. Seeing a high-resolution image of a painting online does not fully prepare you for the emotional impact of standing in front of the real thing. Likewise, as is Walter Benjamin’s concern, a reproduction of an image (in this case, virtual) loses the tangible connection between human and object. But how does this apply to digital art? What if a piece of artwork only exists in a digital format, intended to be interacted with through a computer, smart phone, or tablet? Can it possess a ‘digital aura’? Is it possible to create a tangible relationship? Is the viewing platform its only connection to physical reality?

As a result of the Exhibiting Photography module, I am starting to view ‘art’ as being a conceptual term rather than a physical thing. By this definition, digital or virtual art will fall under the same scope of value and importance as physical art. Would it perhaps be more appropriate to use the word ‘museum’ in the same way, as a conceptual verb rather than a defining noun…?


Screenshot from: http://otdac.org/

In a recent ES Magazine article, there were interviews with ‘new curators’, who have developed alternative mediums through which to consume art – specifically digitally-produced work. The one which caught my attention was the conversation with Attilia Fattori Franchini, co-founder and curator (though the article refers to her as a “virtual gallerist”) of Opening Times. This is described as a ‘platform’ rather than a gallery, which commissions artists and holds a ‘collection’ of works. She emphasises that it remains open to the public 24/7 (bypassing the limitations of a physical museum’s visiting hours) and can be accessed at any time by anyone. Another interesting point she makes is how digital art is less popular with collectors due to its non-tangible nature. With this, Dillenberg’s, and Benjamin’s arguments in mind, how does a lack of physicality affect our relationship with the art? Does the viewing environment influence our opinions? Can you establish an emotional connection to something purely digital?

I personally do not find the Opening Times website to be particularly engaging, but perhaps this is because digital art and virtual galleries are still a new area for me. I found myself more drawn to the articles and essays on the site, rather than the artwork itself. I appreciate what Fattori Franchini is trying to achieve, but I think there is still a way to go before it is fully discoverable by the mainstream audience they want to attract. Currently I feel the concept is perhaps too exclusive and only for people who are ‘in the know’, but exposure in free publications will help to raise awareness and promote interest.

Given his very traditionalist viewpoint, I wonder whether Dillenberg feels the same way about virtual art as he does virtual museums. As the ES article shows, alternative mediums are continually being developed and explored, so perhaps it is time for a reconsideration of what a museum/gallery is and has the potential to be beyond brick or concrete walls. This can even be applied to art itself.

Should exclusively-online museums and galleries receive more promotion and funding?

Is it possible to create an emotional or tangible connection to a piece of digital art?


Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Work of Art in the Mechanical Age of Reproduction’ In: Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison., eds. 1982. Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology. London, Harper & Row Ltd, pp.217-220.

Dillenburg, Eugene. January 2011. ‘What, if anything is a Museum?’ In: Exhibitionist Spring ’11. American Association of Museums, pp.8-13.

Opening Times: http://otdac.org/ [accessed 03/11/15].

Wilson, Sophie. 9th October 2015. ‘The New Exhibitionists’ In: Evening Standard Magazine. London (also available online: http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/esmagazine/new-exhibitionists-meet-the-london-curators-reinventing-the-way-we-consume-art-a3085631.html, accessed 05/11/15).

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