The Online Museum

Phoebe Cawley


Just under a year ago I started interning for Girl Museum, a museum that celebrates young women aged 25 and under through its exhibitions, newsletters, blog and education packages. The difference between GM and other institutions is that it has a purely online presence. This virtual form has led to challenges and problems; last year we experienced a hacking on International Women’s Day that led to the loss of all exhibition content. But equally its online existence tests the boundaries of art spaces and museum structures, representing the physical and material in a virtual domain.

Thinking about GM brings to mind questions about the necessity, accessibility and efficiency of traditional, physical museums and galleries. These institutions are often packaged to reinforce ideas of elitism and superiority about their contents; the rooms are spotlessly clean and quiet, the pieces often roped off and guarded. Thus, museums often attract certain groups, represent the works and research of a small self-referential community and, in a way, separate themselves from the world outside their walls.

If you remove all of these aspects of art viewing, how does this influence your experience? Is the ‘perfect’ environment within these institutions necessary for a “profound experience of art” to quote Ben Lerner? Or does removing the boundaries of walls and physicality actually allow for a more complex and in-depth understanding of exhibitions’ contents?

The accessibility of GM and the fact that I could contribute from wherever I had an internet connection, was what initially drew my attention and interest to it. This is all one requires to view the museum too: no travelling, no queueing, no paying. The time-consuming act of ‘visiting’ a museum is replaced by a URL and instead of following the movements of other visitors from room to room, one is completely alone and able to access and revisit any aspect of the museum at any time. The lack of ropes, glass and guards contributes to this accessibility, giving visitors freedom that just isn’t possible in physical museums. You are able to view pieces as many times as you want, zoom in or out to look as closely as you desire, and can view multiple exhibitions simultaneously through numerous tabs and windows. Furthermore, GM’s accessibility from anywhere forces a visitor to consider its contents within the context of the outside world.

There are undoubtedly limitations to online museums; due to their virtual form, all exhibition content is photographs or scans of the real pieces. We are shown representations of material and physical items as opposed to the actualitems. However, I don’t believe that this prevents visitors from experiencing ‘authentic’ art. Though a physical museum brings visitors close to real pieces of art, its strict structure forces visitors to act and view them in specific ways. An online museum like GM removes this structure, allowing visitors the freedom required to have legitimate educational and emotional responses to art- a “profound experience of art” as it were.


“Bobbi” by darlene anita scott, 2015

“Bobbi” by Darlene Anita Scott, 2015, from Girl Museum exhibition ‘Breathing Lessons’

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