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What Are Virtual Museums?

Have you ever wanted to go to a museum, but couldn’t because it was too far away? If you have, then there might be a solution for you now: virtual museums. While there is nothing like visiting an iconic museum and encountering world-renowned artwork hundreds or even thousands of years old, virtual museums are the next best thing. A virtual museum takes a physical museum online where you can look at and interact with the artwork without ever having to leave your own home.

In recent years, many famous museums around the world have created virtual tours and online exhibits for people to enjoy. For example, the British Museum, in London, allows online visitors to view over 60 of their galleries virtually. Highlights include blue-and-white porcelain from the Ming Dynasty, the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies, and works by famous artists like Dürer and Michelangelo. The Guggenheim Museum in New York teamed up with Google Arts & Culture to let virtual visitors tour the Guggenheim's famous spiral staircase and discover incredible artwork from the impressionist, post-impressionist, modern, and contemporary eras.

While virtual museums increase accessibility for many people who otherwise would not be able to visit the physical museum, they have many other benefits as well. First of all, many museums are only able to show a small percentage of their artwork at one time - the Louvre shows 8% of their artwork, the Guggenheim shows 3%, and the Berlinische Galerie 2%. Through virtual museums, more of their artwork can be made available to the public at one time. Second, the mission of museums is to educate the public about culture and history while fostering diversity and sustainability, and virtual museums allow museums to reach even more people with their mission. Third, without the limitations of physical space, such as size, lighting, the fragility of the artwork, etc., virtual museums can create an interactive and unique experience through different forms of presentation and storytelling.

Virtual museums can even heighten the experiences of physical museum visitors. In recent years, museums have used technology to create VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) experiences that visitors can use when observing artwork. For example, the Louvre recently launched a VR experience available in five languages called, “Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass,” where virtual visitors can discover details about the painting that are hidden from the naked eye such as its wood panel texture and how time has affected the way it looks. In another example, the National Museum of Singapore is currently partnering with teamLab, using AR to run an immersive installation called, “Story of the Forest.” This exhibition transforms 69 images from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings into 3-D animations, part of a beautiful visual landscape that presents Singapore’s history from its colonial past to its present-day modernity.

Virtual museums allow more people to have access to museums and a wider range of artwork to be displayed. They can also enhance the enjoyment and learning of physical museum visitors through interactive VR and AR experiences. In the future, virtual museums will only grow in popularity, and by making art and culture accessible to everyone, they will continue to promote diversity and education throughout the world.


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