Art on the Internet: A modern approach that brings exhibits to life

Dr. Britt Kroepelien, Associate Professor
Department of Cultural Studies and Art History
University of Bergen
Bergen, Norway

A museum exhibition never consists exclusively of the pictures or objects on display. A 17th century painting or a 17th century silver tankard cannot, on its own, reveal much about itself to museum visitors who are not familiar with 17th century art and culture. To help the visitors, who by their very presence are interested, the pieces in an exhibition are always accompanied by a discreet label which, at the very least, gives the title of the work, the name of the artist or craftsman, the year and place of production, and the current owner. In most cases, a catalogue is also available, offering additional information about the pieces; perhaps even describing the context or atmosphere in which they were created. And, in many cases, guided tours are also provided, on tape or in person, to add a more personal perspective to the knowledge and appreciation of the visitor. No one will contest the fact that supplying such information is essential to the success of an exhibition and, most importantly, to generating the positive reaction and support from the visiting public that all museums depend on. It is very valid, however, to ask whether the presentation methods most commonly used in the past are adequate for catching and keeping the attention of the visitors whom museums would like to reach today... and tomorrow.

Present day technology, in particular computer technology, enables us to experiment with a wide range of new and exciting presentation possibilities. The 1997 exhibition "1000 Years of Norwegian Silver" at the Oslo Museum of Applied Arts (Kunstindustrimuseet) in Oslo, Norway, was a successful example of one such experiment. The Internet presentation of the exhibition ( )"1000 Years of Norwegian Silver" (also giving access to "Norwegian tankards 1580-1740") makes the exhibition accessible to website visitors in Norway and throughout the world who would otherwise never know about, let alone enjoy, the spectacular works of art that were on display.

During the development of the on-line exhibition for "1000 Years of Norwegian Silver" we achieved the following results:

Three-dimensional mathematical models of real objects made it possible to turn and examine an object from all angles, as though holding it in your hand. High resolution images made it possible to see and study intricate and intriguing details of an object that would otherwise be difficult to discern - for an expert or a novice. A virtual exhibition made it possible to see objects in one place, at one time, which could never otherwise be collected, displayed, and viewed together.

An interactive database made it possible to quickly and easily browse through volumes of relevant information in seconds. The Internet and World Wide Web made it possible for anyone in the world to enjoy an exhibition in Oslo.

On May 25, 1998, a fourth on-line exhibition, "Dragons from the North", opens on the Internet at website ( This coincides with the official opening by Queen Sonja of Norway of the corresponding real-life exhibition in Ivan the Great's Bell Tower in the Kremlin Museum in Moscow. A fifth large and extensive on-line exhibition is being developed in connection with an upcoming display of Norwegian cut glass at internationally known Nøstetangen Glass. The museum exhibition itself will include electronic presentations in the form of digital catalogues, a knowledge database, and a multimedia presentation. The objects displayed in all of these exhibitions represent highlights of our cultural heritage. Due to the high standards we have set for image quality, we are able to convey an understanding of the art and the craft at a level which could not be achieved earlier. By presenting them on the Internet in the form of high-resolution images, providing many details from each object, these exhibitions not only allow the general public to enjoy art, but provide excellent worldwide opportunities for teaching and research.The conference presentation would include access to and `live' demonstrations of these exhibits and the potential of this approach.