The New Type of Exhibition

How we have adapted to create new online art exhibitions

Written by Clare Davidson

We’re already halfway through February which means we’re coming up for our one year anniversary of the first nationwide lockdown. So many things have changed in this past year and with businesses closed and people working from home, we’ve had to adapt.

For the majority of the past twelve months, galleries and museums have been some of the institutions that have had to shut their doors, but thanks to the internet many have been able to modify the ‘normal’ way to present an exhibition. Just because we’re in lockdown doesn’t mean we can’t have art in our lives.

Here are some of the different styles of an online exhibition:

PAPER Gallery – The Article

Perhaps the most common online exhibition is the perfectly ordinary article-style exhibition page.

One of the many examples of this comes from PAPER gallery. PAPER have presented several virtual exhibitions on their site, one of them being the ‘Between the Layers Of’ show by Nishiki Sugawara-Beda & Bartosz Beda. Here, their work is showcased clearly in high definition – a must for an online exhibition – with a few modest paragraphs at the top of the page about the artists and their work. It’s simple and to the point. There’s nothing wrong with it, the art is easily viewed and we have learnt a little about the work. No frills what-so-ever.

And yet it does nothing to replicate the experience of going to a live exhibition. Pre – lockdown, putting effort into an online exhibition whilst having access to a physical space might not have been much of a priority, allowing for these minimalist type of online shows to become the standard even if they aren’t the most thrilling. However, I can’t deny that these pages have proven time and time again to be a reliable and certainly an effective way of presenting to an audience virtually as seen on PAPER gallery’s own website. If no frills is your thing, then these shows are the one for you.

The Holden Gallery – 24 Hour Instagram Exhibition

Screenshot from the Holden Gallery’s Instagram Exhibition ‘Agency is the Ability to Act’ by Libby Heaney

The Holden Gallery have certainly taken a unique twist in the world of online exhibitions, one I certainly haven’t seen before. Using Instagram as a tool to present an online exhibition isn’t a new idea – accounts like @slow_install have been doing this for years now. But, the Holden Gallery have taken it a step further by not using the grid to present their work but by using the ‘stories’ element of the picture sharing app.

By using stories – something that is only available for 24 hours – as the exhibition space for Agency Is the Ability To Act’, the Holden Gallery and artist Libby Heaney have created a sense of urgency and an almost limited edition feel to the show because once it’s gone, it’s gone. There are no repeats, there is no way for us to go back and take it in all over again. 

It has to be said though, being on Instagram has its pros and cons of who is seeing their content. By using social media to present an exhibition, they might exclude older generations who aren’t online as much but at the same time they could more than easily reach a wider audience with millennials and gen Z who are online.

It’s an odd thing for a gallery to do – normally a gallery would display artwork for a few weeks or even several months to allow people from all areas the chance to experience new art. But maybe because it’s only 24 hours, they’ve managed to grab everybody’s attention. Maybe this will be a new style for the gallery, a great idea if it is. With there always being something new to grab your attention online, keeping exhibitions short and sweet might be the way forward.

Contemporary Six An Online Walk Through

Contemporary Six Exhibition Space for ‘London Art Fair 2021’ by Richard Cook

Contemporary Six have taken an alternative route to the online exhibition by taking what looks like a literal exhibition space and placing it online. In this space they have placed artist Richard Cook’s ‘London Art Fair 2021’ for us all to see. This is the most life-like of the virtual exhibitions. With the art on the walls and the audio guides next to each piece, it gives a realistic feel to what a gallery space actually is. 

With keys in the corner of the display to move you around it’s quite easy to navigate the space and go where you want to. I suppose this gives you a similar independence to viewing the exhibition in the way that you would also get in a live show. But if guided tours are more your style, then select that option at the start and the virtual exhibition will take you through pausing briefly at each piece. And when I say brief, I mean for a few seconds before moving on. This is where the experience as a viewer is let down – a real tour would pause longer than that, making it seem a bit hurried. However, there is a pause button but I feel like that just takes the magic out of having the virtual tour to begin with.

I will say though, what lets the experience down as a whole is the quality of the audio guides. Although what being said by Cook is interesting, there’s a lot of static which can make listening quite difficult and unfortunately there isn’t a transcription available if you would prefer to read what he’s saying.

HOMEExhibition On Film

Created by Studio Morison and Future 20 Collective, directed by Ivan Morison, commissioned by HOME Manchester

HOME have really outdone themselves with their ‘Future 20: Last Place on Earth’ virtual exhibition. Out of all the online exhibitions I have seen over the past year, this one is by far the most thought out and curated.

This 360 degree film – where it feels more virtual reality than it does virtual exhibition – was created by a group of young artists specializing in different mediums from filmmakers to poets, photographers to theatre performers, to create a “utopian place” as what the last day on earth may be like starting outside the HOME cinema itself.

HOME recommends that you view this film full screen on your chosen device with headphones, or if you’re lucky enough to have access, use a VR headset to get an even more “immersive experience”. If you’re not the most tech savvy like myself, then feel free to press play and sit back to experience this film exactly the way it was created. But if you want to truly dive deep into what’s to offer, then by all means, play around with the track pad of which ever device you’re using and explore the ‘Last Place on Earth’ at all angles.

What I most enjoy about this show is that it’s obvious how much hard work has gone into it. HOME really took the idea of a virtual exhibition and truly ran with it. It’s not at all like a live exhibition would be, yet out of all the online exhibitions, it’s the best experience. On an accessibility standpoint as well, HOME have included caption subtitles, audio description and an easy-read guide to the exhibition. Something that hasn’t been available on previous online exhibitions.

HOME has also made their exhibition available on YouTube, where you can also find other excellent exhibitions we have reviewed such as Grayson Perry’s Art Club – you can watch the Curator guided tour on Youtube – and Cartwheel Arts ‘Collaborate’ exhibition.

Screenshot from Manchester Art Gallery Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSsrYsnTWkk&t=10s

In a nutshell, I’d say that different styles of online exhibitions cater to different people. If you’re not one for all the flourishes, then an article style might be for you. Or if you miss the experience of being in a gallery space, then the walk-through is your cup of tea. And if you like the modern/futuristic approach then check out social media or have a look at what HOME is up to. 

One thing I will say is, we don’t know how much longer we’ll actually be in lockdown but if institutions think creatively about how to keep audiences engaged through these exhibitions, then I think we’ll be okay.


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