The pandemic closure of museums not only left the public, receptive to the fine arts, without the lively dialogue it needed, as it left museums with huge losses (Pushkin’s NG said that in 2020 revenues from extra-budgetary activities fell 3.5 times). The “effect of presence” was taken into the digital plane, and this trend, on the one hand, opened up new perspectives, on the other, it revealed unresolved issues.
Online lectures and excursions are the most obvious and least expensive way to go online. You can “go” to a lecture at the Tretyakov Gallery or, say, on a tour of one of the main exhibitions of 2020 – the Raphael retrospective at the Scuderia del Quirinale. Another trend that has developed during the pandemic is the creation of virtual panoramas. In general, they are already in common use (and this year, the Pushkin Museum presented many of them, being at the forefront of digitalization). However, in Russia, as always, it is slower than in the world. Such a panorama was made for the largest exhibition in Jan van Eyck’s history in Ghent, alas, which closed ahead of schedule. And recently, The Hague Mauritshuis, which houses Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, announced that it was the first museum in the world to be fully digitized in gig pixel resolution.
Another digitalization strategy is creating content that does not duplicate reality, does not become its more or less pale shadow, but is possible only on the Internet. Among Russian museums, the Pushkin Museum was the most creative of all here with the projects “100 Ways to Live a Minute” and “Another War”. In the first case, in Pushkinskoye they found a way to show, in particular, a lot of video art (which is often more convenient to watch at home than at some large exhibition) to everyone, free of charge and without violating copyright. In the second – to tell about the museum during the war years, visually combining “then and now.”
No matter what digital sceptics may say, modern museum life is impossible without online (for all the disadvantages of this format). After all, digitalization makes cultural reality limitless in the face of epidemiological constraints and political conflicts. Although not more alive. High-quality online projects can attract an offline audience. In this sense, digitalization could work for an institution: the audience missed it.
The state is advocating this digitalization, but the question of who will pay for free content for viewers has not been resolved. The audience is unlikely to agree to this. Museum resources are depleted (and not know how many times they will be told to close). The opportunity to turn digital development for good may be missed.