The world’s largest art museum is sure to set a precedent, and the Louvre has done just that. On March 26, the Louvre announcement that they have placed the more than 480,000 pieces in their collection on an online platform, allowing anyone with internet access to view all of the artwork from the museum’s eight collections. Not only can you view images of these works of art, but you can also walk around the museum virtually by following an online map or viewing recorded gallery tours.
Jean-Luc Martinez, the president of the Louvre, sum perfectly: “The magnificent cultural heritage of the Louvre is now just a click away!” Martinez hopes this content will entice people to visit the museum in person when they can, after tasting its vast wonders online.
Virtual experiences do not permanently replace in-person events, but rather enrich physical experiences and make arts institutions much more accessible. For example, “Great performancewhich is now in its 48th season on PBS, has showcased a variety of performing arts on public television for years. “Great Performances” did not replace opera, musical theater or symphony, but rather allows people who may not have access to these live performances to experience the immersive beauty of art through a different medium.
While online art experiences are always different from in-person events, they provide a convenient way to engage with art, especially for those who may not be able to afford art experiences. physical, feel intimidated in art institutions, or simply live in an entirely different city or country environment. Offering more art experiences to a wider audience is a step in the right direction for art museums, especially those with collections as vast and informative as those of the Louvre. The Louvre is a center of artistic scholarship and historical analysis, which unfortunately has become too exclusive and inaccessible for many. The transition to the online sphere is beginning to break down the hierarchy that many believe is present in art institutions.
Plus, it’s often easier to read labels or track visits online than in person at an art museum. The average museum visitor spent 15-30 seconds to each piece of art in a museum, but in an online format one can more leisurely scroll through an article about a piece, listen to a video clip about it, or at least spend a little more time read the 150 word tag without the distractions of a physical gallery. Most Louvre artwork labels are in French; however, when reviewing this information online, it is easily translated into any other language. Art, along with artistic information and context, becomes universal.
Despite the accessibility and convenience of online exhibits, the virtual platform cannot fully mimic the entirety of a museum experience. Online collections will never be able to recreate the silence that descends on a gallery, the rustle of visitors’ feet or the listening to conversations around the works. It’s also impossible to recreate the artistry of a gallery curator and the subtle intricacies that go into every element of exhibits – from the placement of artwork to the choice of color for walls and frames. All features of a gallery display are intentional, and some of that intention is removed in an online format. That doesn’t mean viewing artwork online is inferior, but it is different. Museums should use their online platforms as a starting point, a means of attracting visitors and allowing people around the world to access their works without having to leave their homes, and not as a means of replacing the Museum.
The future of museums will look a lot like what the Louvre did; a combination of accessible online artworks and a world-class physical museum filled with remarkable galleries and bustling crowds of visitors. One does not replace the other, but they are stronger together.