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A virtual art gallery has been created specifically for lockdown

The virtual museum, Voma, is being built from scratch by CGI artists and computer engineers

Written by
Katie McCabe

Online art shows have become a regular fixture in our lives while the physical galleries remain closed. Mostly, this has meant pre-existing institutions taking art imagery, and placing it into a virtual experience users can visit from their laptops, like a stroll through Google Maps. The lockdown has also produced some innovative interactive art exhibitions built specifically for the internet, like ‘You’re in a Computer Game, Max!’, which places the work of eight artists into a 3D digital space. But next month will see the launch of a fully digital museum, Voma. It’s not just a ‘virtual’ exhibition, but an entirely new structure, made from pixel ‘bricks and mortar’, that will be used to exhibit both historical and contemporary art from online galleries. 

Photograph: VOMA
Photograph: VOMA

Voma was originally devised by artist Stuart Semple, who is well-known for his publicity-generating art campaigns. When Anish Kapoor secured exclusive rights to use Vantablack, the blackest colour in the world, Semple started selling ‘the world’s pinkest pink’, a powdered paint available to anyone but Kapoor. And when benches in Bournemouth were fitted with metal bars to deter rough sleeps, Semple called it out as a ‘design crime’, prompting the council to remove them. Semple later recreated the bench for an art show by covering it in soft toys. 

With Voma, Semple is focusing on accessible design, making the art on show available for free to anyone with an internet connection, whether it’s through a computer, tablet, phone, or VR headset. In a campaign video for the museum, he describes how he enlisted the help of an elite team made up of ‘Hollywood movie special effects CGI wizards, game designers, network computing engineers, curators, architects and artists’, but explained they had hit a few roadblocks, and are crowdfunding on Kickstarter to remain on schedule. 

A teaser video for Voma shows an impressive VR space. Filled with digital renderings of skylights and clean concrete walls, it has a similar feel to the open spaces of the National Theatre and Tate Modern’s most recent addition, Switch House. As a VR gallery has very few limits when it comes to architectural design, you’d think the temptation would be to create something fantastical. A gallery on stilts, a gallery in space, a gallery placed into the Hadean universe of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. Emily Mann, the creator of Voma’s architecture, explained that grounding the museum in something close to reality was a considered choice: ‘It’s vital to root the experience in a common physical visual language in order to assist the transition into a digital landscape.’ In other words, having to look at art in a computer-generated building is a surreal enough experience on its own.  

Photograph: VOMA
Photograph: VOMA

Semple was an early adopter when it came to displaying art on the internet. Back in 2000, he sold his artwork online when the concept was still extremely new. Speaking about Voma, he said: ‘I’ve always dreamed of a place where anyone, from any walk of life can come together around art. At a time like this where we are starved of going to museums, I realise how much I miss it. There are lots of people who can’t go to museums ordinarily due to economic, physical or societal restrictions, and it’s amazing that we are finally at a point where the technology is able to bring the museum to them.’ 

Voma is scheduled to launch in June. There are no details yet of what the opening exhibition will involve, but it’s safe to say you won’t be seeing much by Anish Kapoor. 

Find out more about Voma here.

Want to take a virtual tour of London’s museums and galleries right now? Go ahead

Did you miss the Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi’ exhibition at Somerset House? See it online next week 

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