I live in a small industrial city in the Midlands which has not got a culture of arts in the same way as some of the bigger cities in the UK and so I have decided to use an on-line gallery which gave its own unique problems i.e. which to choose!
I seem to spend several days just looking between 3 or 4 big ones – The Metropolitan Museum in New York which was my original thought, the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert and the National Gallery plus a last find was the Saatchi Gallery. I realised after reading through the assignment I wanted my ‘visit’ to be as close to possible to actually physically visiting with the added extras so I asked myself the following criterias:
- Firstly is the website easily navigable?
- Is there a virtual tour? this hopefully gives me the impression of actually visiting
- Can I zoom in on specific works to take a closer look?
- Can I see how each gallery or room is hung? plus all the questions in the assignment that refer to an actual visit?
- Can you read information on specific works of art if you zoom in during your virtual tour?
- On the website are there research resources?
- … and can you look up different artists or specific periods?
- … is there a channel, blog or even podcast that is available?
- Does the website have visiting information and information on the gallery layout? … this point is useful before visiting any gallery.
- Are there any additional specific points that are useful now or in the future?
Looking through all the websites of the above museums and galleries I also asked whether they had different collections of ceramics, sculptures, textiles as well as painting – this was more for a research point of view in the future and yielded some much needed works and artists but the gallery I choose was the one purely specialising in fine arts.
I love all the galleries and they are now listed as valuable research sites including the Saatchi Gallery as it seems more about modern artists but I choose the National Gallery because it literally ticked every box above except for one (you can’t zoom in as close as I would like to look at detail on the paintings). Apart from a virtual tour of particular rooms of the gallery when you click on the Floor Plans in the Visiting section you are given an interactive map which enables you to further explore the the whole collection literally room by room – this provides a very good overview of the whole gallery. The site is almost perfectly laid out and incredibly easy to find what you are looking for – you can get to know this site very quickly and it has a lot of information on visiting, learning, what’s on, the paintings themselves (this section is huge and very informative and includes research resources that are available on-line and elsewhere). The gallery also has its own channel with various films and monthly podcasts.
Visiting the National Gallery on-line (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/) is as close as you can get to visiting the gallery in person as it is possible to get and although it cannot match a personal visit it does make a very good second if you live far away.
There were a series of questions posed in the course that I considered when ‘experiencing’ the virtual tour and I treated them in the same way I would if I had visited the gallery in person:
- So how is exhibition hung and do the galleries complement the experience of seeing the works? as you look at each room in the virtual tour there is a box with 2 tabs which you use to see each gallery and this makes it difficult to judge how the galleries complement each other as there are a limited number of rooms viewed. However the galleries do complement the works on display with the colours used highlighting the works as opposed to contrasting them and in addition the works are hung alongside each other rather than above or below each other – this last point means that each painting is easily viable and there is also a restricted number per room (clearly the rooms have been chosen very deliberately for each specific collection dependent on size). As I state above by clicking on the floor plans in the Visiting section you do also get to see all the pictures in the individual galleries and get an idea of the flow of the museum a lot better than on the virtual tour – each section is colour coded on the website and the gallery is logically laid out as you would expect.
- Are there too many or too few works? Even though the rooms look sparse because they have high ceilings the number of works per gallery is about right – there is space between them and yet close enough to each other for the collections to be viewed as a whole.
- What about lighting? this is much harder to judge on-line but the photos show a good form of lighting above so the paintings are well lit and from what I can see the lighting is not harsh due to the sheer size and height of the rooms with the lighting being high enough not to intrude but low enough for the colours and details to be seen clearly.
- Can a viewer get close enough to the paintings? there is a rope barrier that can be seen that enables a visitor to get close but not too close and thereby protect the paintings. However on-line I would like to be able to zoom in and be able to look at each work in detail – for example it would be good to be able to see the brush strokes or just study parts of the paintings as you would in person and this is my one criticism of the website.
- Can you sit down? a relevant question particularly if you wish to take notes or draw or simply just to sit and take in the whole experience and each gallery shows plenty of seating but without being intrusive or taking away from the experience – the height and placing of the seating here has been well thought of.
- Can you get back to revisit earlier parts of the gallery you visited earlier or do you feel propelled along? from what I can see on the floor plans in the Visiting section it is very easy to go back to works you want to see again – this may however be different at busy times when crowds of visitors will inevitably push you along. The floors are well laid out and well arranged and easily navigable.
- In addition for each painting the website there is information either in the tabs on the virtual tour or when you click on any individual painting on the interactive map – it is sufficiently detailed to give you a good overview and history of the works. The information covers the painting itself, key facts including size and media used with what canvas was used and also artist bibliography.
- There is a question over audio guides – these are available when you visit the gallery but what I did like is that there are also British Sign Language sessions available for deaf or blind and partially sighted visitors too so they can also get the most out of the gallery too.
- Lastly I did look at the question over whether there were any display problems – the only one I could think of was due to the height of the rooms but by hanging the paintings in a traditional manner by long chains (I presume because it is hard to see on the website) they have solved this issue. The height of the rooms and scale actually highlight the paintings because they can be spaced in such a way that you are able to really see the paintings and when the gallery does not have too many visitors you would be able to both get up close to the works or stand back or indeed look at them from different perspectives.
One final overall question in my review is ‘How does the gallery reflect the notion of the western canon’?
This gallery is the very definition of the western canon as it holds the UK national collection of paintings from the 13th through to the 19th century – for me to find this gallery as a newcomer to studying fine art and its rich history this is like a dictionary of artists and paintings. The idea of a canon is a new term for me but I understand its meaning to be a collection of art (or books or music too) that has been accepted by scholars as being the most influential and important in shaping western culture – these paintings in the national gallery are by masters of fine art paintings through those 6 centuries and reflect the classical nature of the western canon. In these paintings you can study the economic, political and social history of the times along with the materials and techniques – these incredible artworks are a visual representation of history that speak to us now through the years. I fully appreciate that the other great galleries of the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in New York also reflect the western canon along with other smaller galleries and museums too but for me personally at this moment in my studies this gallery helps me to understand it and study it.
Overall this gallery was my last choice except for the Saatchi but having taken time to study the website fully and ask the same question that I would have done if I had been visiting in person I feel that I have had a similar experience to visiting – however it has also left me desperately wanting to visit too to fully see these great works in person and to get the full experience of the atmosphere of the gallery which is something a website simply cannot convey.
But now my quandary is how to choose the works to study in more depth…..
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2016. Metropolitan Museum of Art [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015]. Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/
The National Gallery. (2016). The National Gallery [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015].
Tate Modern. (date unknown). Tate [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015]. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk
Victoria and Albert Museum. 2016. Victoria and Albert Museum [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015]. Available from: https://www.vam.ac.uk/