by Eva Schubert, president and chief executive Museum With No Frontiers
Searching in any engine the term “virtual exhibition“, the large number of results will not meet our expectations or that even corresponds to our notion of exhibition, that is a number of pieces following a theme based on a scientific project. In most of the results, the term “virtual exhibition” corresponds to virtual tours of existent exhibition spaces (including spaces completely unrelated to the museum as fairs, car shows or fitness centers). Some museums use the term “virtual exhibition” for plain image galleries or individual works appearing and commented on a website. The examples are countless but almost always the word “exhibition” is inappropriate and therefore misleading to those initiatives.
With its program of virtual exhibition opened in 2005, and a series of 18 exhibitions of Islamic Art in the Mediterranean, Museum With No Frontiers for the first time realized real exhibitions, designed specifically for the web and realized in virtual form as a product in its own right, with the aim of encouraging the visit through the original approach to the theme and the variety of exposed materials. The easy accessibility of the individual pages – regardless of the connection speed available to the user – is an essential cornerstone in the research of Museum With No Frontiers: not to simply use the virtual space as a complement to physical space, but to realize autonomous and innovative products exploiting the full potential of the virtual dimension.
This approach not only gives visibility and access to the material that could not be exhibited in a physical exhibition (as monuments, sites and landscapes), but also allows institutions and people from different cultural backgrounds to carry out joint projects that offer all participants the same benefits and the same opportunity to use the product.
The first cycle of virtual exhibitions by Museum With No Frontiers is part of the Discover Islamic Art Virtual Museum, and it presents the great Islamic dynasties that ruled for more than thirteen centuries on the two shores of the Mediterranean, from the Umayyad Caliphs (661) until the end of the Ottoman Empire (1919). The 18 exhibitions have been developed by partner-museums’ curators, selecting artifacts, monuments and sites from the permanent collection of the Virtual Museum. The introductory texts and descriptions are available in nine languages, and each image can be enlarged to discover details which result invisible in the real size. In the preparation of exhibitions, Museum With No Frontiers has developed a specific methodology that – while reflecting the point of view of each partner-museum, offers the visitor a synthetic reading of the various historical and cultural phenomena.
Over 75 experts from 14 countries contributed to the creation of virtual exhibitions from Discover Islamic Art series. They met several times in small focus groups or in plenary meetings to discuss the structure and the material to be displayed in each exhibition. When each exhibition was released on-line, the relative catalog was published in nine languages and all the involved museums organized opening ceremonies with a press conference and guided tour through the virtual exhibition.
The creation of the Discover Islamic Art Virtual Museum and the 18 virtual exhibitions was made possible by a contribution from the European Union within the Euromed Heritage program.
Museum With No Frontiers is currently completing a second thematic section of his virtual museum, dedicated to Baroque and entirely self-financed by the partner-museums in eight countries. Discover Baroque Art is on-line since 2010 (Permanent Collection and Data Bank) and it will present a cycle of nine virtual exhibitions to explore the historical context and the cultural environment in which baroque was formed, from its Renaissance roots until the Rococo, covering the period of time between the conclusion of the Council of Trent (1563) and the Congress of Vienna (1815). The exhibitions will be on line in the next few months.
Museum With No Frontiers goes on with the research on web applications in order to create new formats of exhibitions, and it is participating to an international project for “e-Exhibition”, which is foreseen in 2015 and that will bring together partners from over 20 countries.
MWNF Portal: http://www.museumwnf.org/
Discover Islamic Art: http://www.discoverislamicart.org/index.php
Discover Baroque Art: http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/index.php