A new art form is emerging, almost without being noticed. All around the world, major art institutions are representing their conventional collections digitally on the World-Wide Web.
This paper reviews the way institutions are buildrng these extensions to their galleries We show how the potential of such galleries is being limited. The problem lies in the way the Web is being treated as a sophisticated publishing channel; just another way of reproducing a gallerie’s
physical reality. We argue that engaging, effective virtual galleries can be produced if fundamental computer qualities are understood and exploited. The use of computer power to organise information, facilitate communication and process data is illustrated with reference to initial work we have carried out with the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Walk into any real art gallery, one with physical walls and floors. Art works hang on the walls or stand on the floors. Usually, they are placed not arbitrarily, or by chance but through a careful process of planning and thought by the exhibition curator. The curator will take account of the physical context of the “story” they want to tell. Which room would be best for a particular painting; what about the light for that sculpture? The characteristics of the space directly affect the design of the show. Many galleries and art academies, from the Louvre to the New York Met, are using the World Wide Web (W3). Those who are not yet wired are enthusiastically planning to be … soon. It appears, though, that there is much less thought about how to use this electronic space to display conventional art. The W3 is mainly reproduces aspects of the physical reality of these places. For many galleries, this means simply displaying electronic versions of their paper-based brochures, publicity etc. For the more ambitious (and wealthy) institutions, the trend seems to be the development of sophisticated Virtual Reality views of their rooms. All these things have a place on the Web. But, great opportunities will be missed if art galleries, artists, and technologists fail to think about what new possibilities are opened by the technology – what can the Web provide that no visit to a gallery will ever give? The Interaction Design Centre at Middlesex University has been working with several major institutions including the Royal Academy of Arts (London). Through these studies, we have begun to explore ways of really using the power of networked art information. The flexible nature of hypermedia provides ways of both directing site visitors, leading them through a particular story, and a chance to exploit the visual associations they make outside any curators narrative. W3 interactive elements let people engage with the art – not just to passively absorb it. Visitors can also be brought together, to discuss and experience the art in such different ways to those possible in physical spaces. Putting conventional art works onto the W3 is an art form that requires artists and art institutions to ‘use electronic technology as a prerequisite’ – the medium needs to be exploited to form meta electronic art works. Without the sorts of technique discussed, users will soon lose interest in Web-based art galleries, ending up feeling disillusioned after they see through the haze of hype currently surrounding the technology.
- Matthew Jones, UK, Interaction Design Centre, School of Computing Science, Middlesex
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