Virtual exhibitions draw eyeballs

Virtual exhibitions help extend the life of shows and draw eyeballs here and abroad

So many activities are done online now - grocery runs, banking transactions, shopping excursions and, yes, visits to the museum.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) tells Life! that its virtual exhibitions have helped fuel online traffic growth in the past four years.

Its websites received about 900,000 page views last year, double that of 2011, while the number of unique visitors soared to about 225,000, a 46 per cent rise in the same period.

NHB, which operates seven museums and heritage institutions, digitised its first virtual exhibition in 2010, using a camera with a lens that can capture the surrounding environment in 360 degrees to photograph the exhibition. The resulting images were stitched together, providing visitors with 360-degree panoramic views.

Visitors can click away and swipe around to browse through, say, tribal artefacts salvaged from the Congo Basin, or stamps and figurines from a Justice League display, in between streaming music and checking Facebook. They can zoom in to as close as within arm's length of the exhibits. Some exhibitions come with sound and video as well.

"Projects like these extend the life of our exhibitions - a visitor can revisit his favourite show while others can view past exhibitions in the comfort of their homes on their computers," says an NHB spokesman, noting that only exhibitions suitable for display in such a format are uploaded.

Such exhibitions must have adequate space for the photography to be done. Consent must also be obtained from museums who loan their collections to the museums here.

Virtual exhibitions are part of a broader strategy to extend museums' reach to a wider audience both here and abroad.

Famous museums overseas, such as the Louvre in Paris and London's Tate Modern, have been drawing eyeballs with their vast digital repositories of artworks and online virtual tours.

On the Vatican City's website, one can scrutinise the immense Sistine Chapel without jostling with hordes. Germany's tourism website provides virtual tour hyperlinks for historical sites such as its Cologne Cathedral.

Mr Lester Lai, who heads Odoco agency, says his company has helped close to 2,500 businesses here go virtual. His clients, ranging from restaurants and hotels to gymnasiums and car showrooms, pay from $750 to upwards of $10,000 for large venues.

"Consumers can see what the place looks like before they leave their house, get a sense of the place's aesthetic and recommend it to their friends. You can see it on any device," he adds.

Private art galleries here such as Ode To Art and Art Plural Gallery have also hopped on the bandwagon, allowing Web visitors to view their spaces through search engine Google. These images are, however, not updated in real time.

Ode To Art's gallery owner Jazz Chong, who tried out the technology in December last year, says feedback was "good" and that she saw a "slight increase" in Web visits to her site, although she could not provide exact numbers.

"It also helps to communicate the gallery's layout and the capabilities of our venue for potential exhibits," adds Ms Chong, whose gallery is at Raffles City shopping mall.

But the director of Art Plural Gallery, Mr Frederic de Senarclens, who started using the technology in May 2013, discontinued the service upon realising that his gallery visitors did not use it.

"Based on our experiences, there are still many people who want to be able to see an artwork in person to understand its dimensions, materiality and presence," he says.

Yet, for digital natives such as social worker Yang Zilong, 26, the fact that art is now a click away is a boon.

"The viewing experience may not be the same, but it's still a good idea. The biggest plus about this is the lack of cost. I can sit at home and look at the exhibitions."

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