Physical vs Virtual: Lessons From The World’s First Entirely Virtual Art Museum Recording + Highlights

Is your organization open to virtual visitors?


This week on ArtEvolve we were joined by Lee Cavaliere, Founder of The Sixteen Trust and Artistic Director of VOMA, the Virtual Online Museum of Art. Together, we compared and contrasted the art world’s physical and virtual spaces, taking a tour of the recently launched VOMA to see for ourselves how new technological developments have enhanced and improved virtual spaces.


The recently launched VOMA is the world’s first 100% virtual museum. Interactive and immersive, VOMA is accessible to anyone with an internet connection and exhibits works from some of the art world’s best-known institutions, including the Musée d’Orsay, MoMA, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as pieces from upcoming and emerging artists.


How tech developments are enhancing virtual spaces…

After seeing other institutions fail to hit the mark with their digital offerings, Stuart Semple (artist and creator of VOMA) teamed up with Lee Cavaliere and a team of tech specialists to offer an improved virtual and cultural experience.


As Lee explained, VOMA’s developers, programmers, and designers come from high-end gaming and special effects backgrounds and include individuals that have worked on titles like Red Dead Redemption and the Avengers. Their job was not just to present the artwork in 3D high definition but also to make the vision of the architect, Emily Mann, as lifelike and authentic as possible.


Visitors to VOMA can explore the museum inside and out, moving through the different galleries, browsing the gift shop, and ‘walking’ around the lake outside. Artworks can be viewed from different angles and, thanks to some excellent zoom functionality, visitors can see even the tiniest details such as surface cracking.


Art is for everyone


Accessibility was one of the founding principles of the project. Free and open to everyone regardless of location, VOMA can be viewed in any browser on a computer or smart device. Audio descriptions of the paintings are available in multiple languages, with more options set be added as soon as they are available.


Accessibility plays a part in curation too. By making space for new and underrepresented voices within its virtual walls, VOMA prompts us to rethink the typical power dynamic between museums and society. Can museums really be serving society if they ignore issues such as institutional racism and the climate emergency?



Impossible Architecture


In going 100% virtual and not having a physical building, VOMA has the opportunity to do a number of unconventional things, some of which – like the architecture of the building itself – would even be impossible in the real world.


Some benefits of not having a building:

  • No permanent collection to maintain.
  • No building maintenance costs.
  • Ability to exhibit works that can’t be physically transported, or would be very difficult to secure on loan.
  • Curate new exhibitions very quickly.
  • Easily offer exhibition space to new and emerging artists.
  • Visitors can tour museum at any time – including during lockdown.


A special thank you to our guest speaker Lee Cavaliere, Director at VOMA, for joining us.