When the pandemic forced the closure of public spaces around the world, brick-and-mortar arts institutions had to think on the fly, and many launched virtual tours to compensate. But now a museum is opening that’s fully entrenched in the digital space – the first of its kind to put the virtual experience front and center. 

Launching on September 4, VOMA, or the Virtual Online Museum of Art, is billed as the world’s first fully interactive virtual museum, boasting classic and contemporary works from across the globe, all free to view. The collections, curated by museum director Lee Cavaliere, pull from the collections of well-established institutions like the Hermitage Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, spotlighting pieces like Édouard Manet’s "Olympia," on view at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch, at Madrid’s Museo del Prado, as well as modern works from Nan Goldin, Kara Walker, and Li Wei, among others. 

VOMA open air walkway
Environmental factors like sun, rain, and wind feature in the museum's design © VOMA

One gallery will have an exhibit exploring human connection, while another will feature the "Degenerate Art Show,’" a recreation of the 1937 Nazi exhibit that denounced the work of so-called "degenerate" artists like Max Beckmann and Henri Matisse – part of an ongoing effort to show how art can be used as a tool of oppression. There will also be a focus on up-and-comers, thanks to a commission program that helps innovative artists create their first digital works, with Kenyan-British artist Phoebe Boswell doing the inaugural honors in the museum’s Artist Space. 

Art may be the raison d'être, but technology makes or breaks a virtual excursion, and VOMA’s team relied upon a crew of architects, CGI designers, gamers, and curators to marry computer graphics with gaming interactivity for an experience that aims to be as authentic as a real-life gallery stroll. Each piece is displayed in high resolution and presented alongside related media and reference material, and guests can traverse the space at will, from the grounds to the nearby forest, enjoying the sunshine or taking cover from the rain.

VOMA empty gallery with grey walls and natural light
Per a press release, architect Emily Mann "grounded the impossibility of the space – and its illusory nature – in simple forms, designing it to play with light, creating the perfect environment for interaction with the art itself" © VOMA

“A virtual viewing room can feel like a lonely place – quiet, empty, sometimes slightly uneasy," artist Stuart Semple, who conceived the museum, said in a press release. "In building and curating VOMA, we wanted to get away from that feeling, which is not all that different from walking into a snooty, silent gallery space and feeling a bit self-conscious. 

“We want our visitors to feel like this is their space, and we want them to want to come back again and again, whether to visit new exhibitions as the program continues, or just to hang out.”

A collage of architectural designs for the museum
The flow of the space encourages visitors "to look out, in and over," the press release says © VOMA

 VOMA launches on September 4 at voma.space.

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