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Touching is permitted, sometimes

Galleries in the digital age

Visitors can touch the digital copy of Madonna by M. Galanda. (Source: TASR)

VISITING a gallery or a museum brings along benefits of seeing works of art face to face, feeling their aura as well as smelling their scent. Even the best copy on a screen of a computer cannot convey such an experience and this is why it is worth it to visit galleries and museums even in the age of digital technologies. But art institutions have learned how to harness these latest technologies and use them to simplify, extend and refine their operations.

The Slovak National Gallery (SNG) shows the extensive scope of activities for which such digitised works of art can be used and what the functions of a gallery are in the digital age. Its exhibition entitled Preserving the World. Museum Ritual in the Digital Age marks the completion of the Digital Gallery project.

“Since exhibitions are the typical products of a gallery institution, we have decided to work with the issues that were created by the digitising project also in the form of an exposition,” stated Alexandra Kusá, the SNG general director and curator of the exhibition. “Our intent was to prepare an exhibition that featured museum work and tried to creatively use digital technology to ensure that the most important things – the artefact and the experience – did not get lost.”

In a playful and interactive way the exhibition presents various functions and roles of a museum, which is not only a place for contemplation but an unusual warehouse, classroom and cabinet of knowledge.

The exhibition opens with presenting an iconic work by Mikuláš Galanda, Madonna, as the original work of art and a digital copy, showing in a very tangible way how digital copies can be used. While an inscription “Do not touch” warns guests against touching the art work visitors are invited to touch a screen showing the digital copy of Madonna.

In other rooms the exhibition presents special tasks and activities of collecting institutions, often presenting real situations from existing institutions that enable a kind of behind the screen view for visitors. They can have a look into depositories and see how works of art are deposited, how exhibition cases developed over centuries, browse in digitised sketchbooks of prominent Slovak artists and also learn the history of the oil painting of St Praxedis or see how large-slate objects like architecture can be exhibited.

“The exhibitions show that the collection object is the collection object, that it has its own aura and that to see it is a unique experience that you cannot get anywhere else; you cannot experience this in front of a screen,” Kusá told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the digitised collection caters to experts, extends possibilities for exhibiting while adding extensive opportunities in education. “You have digital data with which you can further work.”

The Digital Gallery project

During the Digital Gallery project of almost €14 million administered by the SNG and financed from EU funds, more than one half of works of art held by 18 galleries across Slovakia were digitised. It lasted from 2012 until November 2015 and during this time a total of 101,394 collection objects were digitised. The project involved creation of a specialised work place in Zvolen where scanners for digitising were located. A restoration studio was also created as many objects had to first be restored before their digitisation. Part of the project was also enhancement of the database system.

According to Kusá, the project enabled them to adapt to conditions of the 21st century.

“Digitised objects were not the only goal for us though it was an obvious goal; this is why we determinedly developed others – building of know-how, care for collection objects and follow up work with digitised objects,” Kusá wrote in a book about the project.

Digitised objects are presented at websites www.webumenia.sk as well as www.slovakiana.sk enabling further use of the digitised artworks.

While the project is now over, digitising will continue with the aim to digitise all registered collections of Slovak galleries.


What: Uchovávanie sveta. Rituál múzea v digitálnom veku / Preserving the World. Museum Ritual in the Digital Age

Where: Slovak National Gallery, Esterházy Palace, Ľ. Štúra Square 4

When: Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun 10:00 – 18:00, Thu 12:00 – 20:00, until February 28

Entrance: free

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