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Art and Virtual Reality. How Innovation and New Technologies Can Shape the Future of the Exhibition.

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Copyright (Carolin Denter)

In the past, virtual exhibitions were regarded as complementary counterparts to physical exhibitions. They overcome local and also temporal limitations. They allow visitors from all over the world to access art, culture and archives 365 days a year. Well presented, virtual exhibitions can offer a real alternative to physical exhibitions, especially when the art world lacks any other alternatives. If you think beyond the possibility of showing photos of rooms and objects, as for example in the Klimt02 #VirtualExhibitions, many different possibilities open up. The virtual exhibitions could include for example learning, content beyond the physical exhibits, active participation and contributions from visitors through forums and uploads, or even online shopping, as in the initiative Jewels on Sale by Klimt02 Gallery Members. Due to the strong shift in interest towards virtual reality in recent years, most platforms and tools for creating an online exhibition are already well advanced in terms of presentation and handling. With minimal technological knowledge, anyone can work online in the most effective and efficient way. Exhibitions can be individually adapted to the needs of different user groups and then be communicated directly through several virtual channels such as blogs, websites, newsletters or social media. Google Arts & Culture, for example, has been working for years to digitize the art world. On their website, you can find not only virtual exhibitions, but also virtual tours of cultural spaces, 360-degree views, and digitized works of art such as Monet's Water Lily Pond in HD resolution, through the zoom you can get as close to the painting and the brushstrokes of the artist as possible, something that would not possible in the museum. In larger institutions it is common already since years, to create 3D scans of objects so that the virtual visitor can enjoy a perfect 3D rendered object from the comfort of his home.

Google Arts & Culture offers a tool to filter artworks worldwide by different topics and tags, such as color.

By applying tags or hashtags, artwork and online-exclusive shows on Google Arts & Culture, Artsy, Artnet, and museums can be filtered by collections, areas of interest, or colors, but also more extravagantly, by climate zones or higher-level contexts such as political influences or historical figures. Through the so-called editor's picks, or the highlighted recommendations, which are usually a selection of easy to digest artwork or special highlights of the recent month, almost everyone can find access to art, even those who in real life would rarely or never go to a museum: An online exhibition is free and easy to access, and not subject to rules or taboos. Virtual exhibitions can also be a useful alternative to the physical exhibition in the future, and we are not only talking about exhibitions in galleries or museums. Who says that fairs or events cannot be held in an alternative, virtual reality, as shown by the virtual exhibition rooms from Art Basel? The apps Artland or Vortic, for example, offer gallerists to create fully virtual exhibitions and includes not only the tools but also a sales platform and marketing tools. If you look at virtual exhibitions from an ecological point of view, it would have positive effects on the environment, there would be less travel, fewer mass events, fewer weekend trips of art enthusiasts leaving the continent to attend an exhibition opening on the other side of the world. From an economic point of view, the tourism sector would suffer enormously. Hotels, restaurants and shops in cities with an exquisite cultural programme would miss parts of their income, generated by the creative industry. It could be the end of the global art world as we know it, and it could also offer new directions and ways to go. For those who depend on, or appreciate a global exchange, the technology currently offers only limited help: there are virtual meetings, social media, various online platforms. But in the end, we need more than that, and there are solutions offered: The so-called Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality shall remedy this situation. Virtual Reality (VR) has already entered the art world. Some artists are working on virtual art, while they are moving within a border area through media such as film, sound or photography. Museums are, due to internal over-aged structures and exhibitions patterns partly not ready to present virtual art. Often it lacks knowledge about presentation. Khora Contemporary is one example of a frontrunner gallery, specialized in virtual reality art. The gallery offers to be the bridge between artists and collectors, museums and galleries to establish as a more common artform in the future. Generally, virtual works of art are less popular to collectors than works of art with a physical body, as it is difficult to archive and present those works at a collection, not to talk about the fact that those artworks can be not as easily protected as for example a painting. Another question is the fast development of technological devices. Digital Artworks made some years ago, can already look old and obsolete today. And how do collectors maintenance this digital art? Another point is that virtual art can be shared and distributed online, making editions almost impossible. The main point regarding virtual art is to talk with the artists. What role does he play when it comes to maintenance, what role does the collector or the museum play and finally what offers virtual reality art what is unique to this medium?

Virtual Exhibitions don't need necessarily to be shown online. Installation view of New Media (Virtual Reality), Khora Contemporary Launch presented by Faurschou Foundation and Fondazione Cini, Venice, 2017. Courtesy of Khora Contemporary.

Different approaches to Virtual Exhibitions, in some cases the room is an art piece which invites to develop digital features through VR. Installation view of Claudia Hart, “The Flower Matrix,” Transfer VR Commission at Wallplay in Chelsea, 2018. Courtesy of Transfer.

The development of computers and other technical devices in the past three to five years, such as “visualization goggles, stereoscopic glasses and screens, digital painting and sculpture, generators of three-dimensional sound, position sensors, tactile and power feed-back systems and others transformed the artworks into an entire virtual universe and allow the viewers to get in and edit them. A good example for one of these advanced tools is the Google Tilt Brush, a brush which allows Artists to paint in 3 Dimensions. In return, this causes a high level of immersion, and psychological impact as the observers were transferred directly into Virtual Reality art. The deep level of immersion and personal involvement, as well as the use of specific technical tools, are the main characteristics of Virtual Reality art.

An interesting approach to the development of purely virtual exhibitions is offered by the platform, which raises the question of whether a virtual exhibition could take place simultaneously on several continents, bringing together artists and the public in a variety of places to work together on experiences that respect local contributions. In other words: could these technologies change the structure of the art world and enable new forms of global exchange for a future in which we will be less interested in jumping on a plane? Augmented reality (AR) on the other hand, is a newer approach and tries to open up new paths to a fully digital future. The Augmented reality is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory and became famous through various Game Apps such as Pokemon Go for mobile devices. With AR, new forms of public art will emerge, available to anyone with a smartphone. Geo-located virtual sculptures can interact seamlessly with the world around them. In a surprising way, they can appear embedded in the urban landscape. New forms of viewer participation will turn spectators into active co-producers. Social distancing will not be an issue.

Although many of these ideas and approaches seem abstract to us at the moment, the future will bring changes and we will learn to adapt. New technologies have often promised to uproot artistic conventions, but rarely do the promised revolutions actually arrive. We should not see ourselves as victims, but as innovative engineers who can shape their own future. Also, our society learns now again, how important the art and culture sector is. Many people have become aware lately that artists do not pursue a hobby, but a profession. The German journalist Andreas Jüttner wrote that art is often associated with leisure time, which leads to the misconception that art is a luxury good. That this is not the case, is shown by facts and figures from a report of the German Government, released regarding Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. in 2018. The GDP of the creative industries with an annual output of 100.5 billion is only exceeded by the automotive industry with 166.7 billion, making it one of the most dynamic branches of the global economy. Artists, cultural organisations, museums, galleries and others from the sector are all important parts of a functioning global cultural landscape and a part of this sector will learn to function again and adapt to the new reality. For now, the challenge is to put virtual reality at the service of something more complex.

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