VvG: Virtual van Gogh

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On: September 25, 2020
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With the rise of COVID-19, many institutions shut down. This allowed an accelerated advancement of organizations to shift on a digital platform. One such case is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam which allows users to experience the museum through a virtual tour through a video series.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced every institution to shut down, without an exact date for resuming businesses. Many institutions and businesses had to find innovative methods for the smooth running of their ventures. They opted for a digital platform, which engaged users from their surrounding space and worldwide. The art world, museums, and galleries serve as an excellent example of the scenario mentioned above, as they faced a metamorphosis due to the current pandemic. Art institutions worldwide have now introduced an alternative experience to their collections, where focus relied on the consumption of the digital and virtual age. Through the digitalization of museums, the art world has now started to engage an increasing number of people.

Figure 1: Screenshot of The Getty Center on Google Maps

The Van Gogh Museum is one such example that has moved to the digital platform to cater to its worldwide audience. The inauguration of the Van Gogh museum occurred in 1973, where the institution is dedicated to the work of famous artist Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries in the heart of Amsterdam. This museum was commissioned by the Dutch government to make these paintings accessible to the people interested in arts, physically and in recent times, digitally (Van Gogh Aspires: Strategic Plan 2018-2020). This institution contains the most extensive collection of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings in the world (Van Gogh Aspires: Strategic Plan 2018-2020). He is now recognized as one of the greatest masters, associated with the Post-Impressionist movement and influence on Fauvism and Expressionism (Garrigues). It is known as a must-see attraction while visiting Amsterdam and is in the top 30 top museums! Alongside it is a museum, and it has been developed into one of the leading knowledge institutes on the artist (Van Gogh Aspires: Strategic Plan 2018-2020). There has been a range of research projects, publications, and educational programs based on Vincent van Gogh (Van Gogh Aspires: Strategic Plan 2018-2020).

The Van Gogh Museum has the following mission:

The Van Gogh Museum makes the life and work of Vincent van Gogh and the art of his time accessible and reaches as many people as possible in order to enrich and inspire them.’ (Van Gogh Aspires: Strategic Plan 2018-2020)

This mission statement was formulated in 2009, but one can assume that this museum was already ahead of its time trying to reach people from all across the globe in the artist’s life. With a click of a button, the museum’s collection can be viewed from your home’s comfort!  The digitalization of this museum is done through an extensive seven-part video series that focuses on the life and work of van Gogh (Cooper). This video series walks the user through the museum’s plethora of rooms to a complementary soundtrack (Maxwell).

The question to be asked is, how effective are these digital museums for users? While some digital museums incorporate interactive and walkthrough methods of viewing their collection, other museums have adopted a more static approach, where only the artwork is displayed. The British Museum would be one such case, where although the museum has gone virtual through Google, the user interface could be improved. In Van Gogh’s virtual tour, it gives a more natural feeling of the art and space – where the camera glances across the paintings, occasionally stopping and zooming in on one artwork, before moving to the next (Maxwell). In this way, there is a certain excitement of being in that ‘virtual space’ than the mouse’s clicking to view and zoom in on the artwork. The advantage that Van Gogh’s virtual tour has over the others is how they incorporate the environmental factors, such as the play of light and shadow, and how the space changes while traveling through it (Maxwell).

Due to the situation and digitalizing the art collections, Van Gogh’s museum has incorporated the ‘walkthrough method,’ which allows users to engage with the digital interface to examine the mechanisms and embedded cultural references to understand how it guides and shapes a user experience (Light et al.).

“The walkthrough method establishes a foundational corpus of data upon which can be built a more detailed analysis of an app’s intended purpose, embedded cultural meaning and implied ideal users and uses” (Light et al.).

Through this method’s eyes, the Van Gogh Museum’s virtual tour allows the user to engage with the digital interface through a video series. The user is guided from the tour’s start to examine all his artwork through a close lens, where the user is brought up close to the paintings. Embedding this culturally artistic approach with added environmental factors shapes the user’s experience as if they were physically present in that museum space. As Light et al. mentioned, the technology shapes culture while simultaneously being a product of it (Light et al.). The digital tours have shaped the art field where anyone can view their collection, without physically being present in that space.

With the advancement of technology in this digital age and the current health crisis, there has been an acceleration of the process of institutions and companies adopting the digital platform. The rapid change to the digital medium has created opportunities for everyone interested in the art world to be a part of the experience. With museums worldwide adopting this platform, it is evident that this was inevitable and bound to happen in the foreseeable future. What will happen when COVID-19 diminishes? Although the demand for digital might decrease, there is some hope that there will be a balance between the digital platforms vs. physical presence.

References:

Maxwell, Peter. “The Rise Of The Virtual Gallery Tour: What Works And What Doesn’T (Yet)”. Frameweb.Com, 2020, https://frameweb.com/article/the-rise-of-the-virtual-gallery-tour-what-works-and-what-doesnt-yet.

Van Gogh Aspires: Strategic Plan 2018-2020. 2020, https://assets.vangoghmuseum.nl/cc8b3db1-15a6-4cd2-a4da-29f5b690a5c2?c=0ba71a0f9d67f4a237683a4af2cf721aee106c6d38e8f5dc30b9dbaf7d71ac6f&_ga=2.203168216.895102947.1600509496-797796906.1600422260. Accessed 20 Sept 2020.

Cooper, Megan. “You Can Now Take A Virtual Tour Of The Van Gogh Museum In 4K Video”. My Modern Met, 2020, https://mymodernmet.com/vincent-van-gogh-virtual-tour/. Accessed 20 Sept 2020.

Light, Ben, et al. “The Walkthrough Method: An Approach to the Study of Apps.” New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 3, Mar. 2018, pp. 881–900, doi:10.1177/1461444816675438.

Garrigues, Par Manon. “The Van Gogh Museum’s Incredible Collection Is Now Available Online”. Vogue Paris, 2020, https://www.vogue.fr/fashion-culture/article/culture-guide-van-gogh-museum-virtual-visit-online.

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