Virtual Galleries

Since we have been closed for repairs/renovation, I’m giving a lot of thought to “virtual galleries” because we’ve chosen to continue to display on our website the artwork of the artist whose show was cut short. Many of these virtual galleries exist in cyberspace where art is displayed only in the 2D world of your computer screen. Are these a good substitute for the bricks and mortar gallery?

Many galleries, the Les Malamut Art Gallery included, not only have a physical space but also a website where a sample of each exhibit artist’s work is posted. Basically, these types of virtual galleries are promotional “teasers” showing only a few pieces, hoping to entice the viewer to come in and see the “real” ones. However, over the last few years, with the advent of high definition flat screen displays, many virtual galleries have popped up on the internet that have no space in the physical world.

That got me to thinking: can a virtual, internet only based, gallery do justice to a work of art? Well, virtual galleries have existed prior to the internet in the form of high quality glossy art books. Once printing techniques and cost went down, these books proliferated the art market and allowed anyone to be able to view historical or current art works from the comfort of their home. The internet based ones of today are no different. But the question that needs to be examined is whether artwork viewed in a flat environment, not the environment the artist intended it to be viewed in, really does justice to the piece. After all, we see things in stereoscopic 3D, not flat on paper or pixels on a screen. 

As an example, I recall my experience with a piece of art that I love dearly a large one from the “Water Lilies” series by Claude Monet (you can read all about his life and work on Wikipedia). All my life, the only versions of it that I had viewed were small printed copies. Then I had a chance to see it on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. I was floored by the size (never realized it was that large) and the fact that I was standing IN FRONT OF IT IN PHYSICAL SPACE! Of course, I couldn’t touch it but I was there, it was there, it was the real thing and I could get close enough to see his brush strokes! Now tell me, can anyone have that experience viewing a work of art on a computer screen? 

However, even though a virtual gallery can’t really do justice to the physical presence of a work of art, it has its place. It helps people get an overview of an artist’s body of work (and, as an artist, I’m grateful I can have such a presence with my website), for those who physically can’t go to great museums and galleries it gives them the opportunity to experience what is happening in the art world from the comforts of home. And lastly, it is a way for artists to cheaply and conveniently promote their artwork, which in this economic climate is definitely a plus.

So I’d like to hear you weigh in on this. What has been your best and worse virtual gallery experiences. Would you like to see more of them or are you of the old school, where standing in front of a work of art in a gallery is the only way you want to experience art?
                           “Painting With Words” – Leona M Seufert


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