The benefits of the virtual museum include increased access to art and audience, the ability to span geographic distance (and hence cultures), and a mutability of form that facilitates innovative artistic expression. But along with these advantages come an array of problems. The same issues that have plagued scholars, publishers, and libraries in the uneasy transition from print to electronic dissemination of text are now felt in the realm of the art world. Museums face the loss of revenue and control and the need to restructure operations throughout the organization. Creators of artistic works face the loss of formal recognition and reward and struggle to build a new aesthetic that is not based on the palpability and characteristics of the physical work. The patron of art on the Internet faces the loss of the familiar aesthetic and also foregoes the cultural experience of viewing works within the context of a carefully crafted collection and in the presence of other visitors and museum personnel.
This paper reports on the nature and use of three different types of virtual art galleries that have been established at the University of Illinois, and explores the impact of networked art on museums, artists, and consumers. The Krannert Art Museum has produced a gallery guide on the World Wide Web, allowing virtual tours of parts of its collection. Joseph Squier and several of his colleagues have developed "@art gallery," a Web site where internationally known artists display original digital works on a revolving basis, with each artist's work being showcased for a period of six to eight weeks and then archived. Squier exhibits his own art works via "the place," where he goes beyond the imitation of the linear, static display of individual images and text to produce a new artistic format for works that exist only in their Web manifestations. Jim Ure, in a review of "the place" appearing in HotWired (the online outgrowth of Wired magazine), calls Squier's work "a gripping document that could be described as an image-narrative, or a digital photo-essay" and "reveals the potential of the Web as a medium, and not just a showcase, for artistic achievement."
The authors are currently collecting data on the use and impact of these three different kinds of virtual galleries through interviews with their creators (both artists and museum personnel) and surveys of their patrons. Extent of use is also being measured by capturing data associated with each visit to the online sites. This paper reports their findings and draws conclusions about the impacts of the GII in the realm of art on individuals, organizations, and society.