WWW Jun 2, 2007

Gemaeldegalerie Alte Meister at Second Life

Andreas Henning

Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister @ Second Life

On 31st May 2007 the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister of the Staatliche
Kunstsammlungen Dresden is opening a counterpart in the desert. But only in
the virtual world, of course: the museum can be visited online in Second
Life(r). The magnificent rooms of the museum have been reproduced in three
dimensions and true to scale, and all 750 masterpieces in the exhibition are
on display. The doors are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visitors can
view the art, chat with each other, access information about the works of
art, participate in art education events, note their impressions in the
guestbook or browse in the shop - all in real time.

The virtual clone of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is located on the
"Dresden Gallery" island, which has a surface area of more than 300,000
square metres. A homepage has been created specially for this project:
www.dresdengallery.com. The homepage has a link whereby members of the
Second Life community can beam themselves directly to the museum. To do this
you have to have a persona, known as an avatar, in Second Life, (free of
charge with the basic account).

The Zwinger, one of the most beautiful Baroque buildings in Dresden, has
been reproduced in full on "Dresden Gallery". Part of the Zwinger is the
large building of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, built in the mid-19th
century in Neo-Renaissance style. It took six designers three weeks to
reproduce this unique architectural ensemble in cyberspace. The whole of the
gallery building is on view: the foyer, the staircases, all 54 halls and
cabinets, and every one of the paintings, pastels and tapestries.

No previous reproductive medium has so far succeeded in providing such an
effective spatial impression of a museum visit in real time, even though the
history of museums has always been intimately bound up with the history of
reproductive media. For example, in 1753, shortly after August III, Elector
of Saxony and King of Poland, had opened the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, the
"Königliches Galeriewerk" was published, presenting the highlights of the
collection in the form of large-format engravings. Over the centuries, new
media have constantly been used, from photography to the CD-ROM. Martin
Roth, Director General of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, therefore
considers it logical to keep pace with the latest developments in the
reproductive media: "It lies in the logic of the historical development of
the media in relation to museums that we should now take on the challenge of
experimenting with the possibilities presented by Web 2.0 technology,
providing a worldwide community with access to a 3-D virtual reproduction of
the museum."

Dresden's Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is the first museum of international
rank to have responded to the new challenges of the web by producing a
genuine 1:1 clone of itself. This concept is therefore fundamentally
different from the many purely fictitious museum creations on the web which
have no counterpart in real life. Martin Roth expressly invites critical
comments: "At the start of this year's Summer of Art, during which the
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden are presenting numerous exhibitions of
contemporary art, the virtual presentation of the Gemäldegalerie Alte
Meister will raise crucial questions that will provoke discussion of how
museums view their role in the 21st century. The reactions of the Second
Life residents and of our visitors and the public in general are important
to us, and controversial debate about the involvement of the Gemälde_galerie
Alte Meister in the world of Second Life is highly desirable".

The concept behind Second Life differs from traditional online games in that
the focus is on social interaction and the production of content. An
exceptional feature of the community is therefore that its gender and age
structure is completely different from that of other platforms. The average
age of the Internet community is above 30, which is surprisingly high, and
whereas most web games are dominated by young, almost exclusively male
players, the gender distribution in Second Life is approximately equal. The
members of Second Life therefore constitute an interesting clientele for

The presentation of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister of the Staatliche
Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Second Life is an experiment, and it remains to
be seen how the residents of the artificial Internet world will react to
this unique opportunity. The Institut für Kommunikations_wissenschaft
(Institute of Media and Communications) at the Technische Universität
Dresden will conduct a project under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Lutz M.
Hagen in which they will chart the progress of this experiment. Dr. Andreas
Henning, Project Leader and Conservator of Italian Painting, says, "The
experiment is based on the working hypothesis that for the first time two
key experiences characteristic of a museum visit can be reproduced on the
new three-dimensional web: namely, space and interaction." The experience of
the museum space is an essential aspect of any museum visit. Viewing a work
of art from a distance, gradually approaching it, then focusing on details
and finally comparing it with other works in the same room - all these
movements affect the visitors' reception of the museum experience. Another
core aspect of a museum visit is the social component. Whether explicitly or
simply in silence, the individual visitor is always involved in interaction
with other visitors and experiences walking through the museum as a social

Space and interaction, two fundamental aspects of a museum visit, can be
replicated by the presentation of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Second
Life, but that doesn't make a virtual visit a substitute for the real thing.
The virtual Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister is intended to arouse curiosity and
encourage people to visit the museum in real life. Criticism of all the
reproductive techniques that have appeared on the market over the centuries
has repeatedly shown that media presentations can only be allusions and must
remain allusions. The virtual counterpart of the museum cannot replace the
key feature of a museum visit, namely the sensual perception of the
original. The virtual visitors are therefore explicitly asked in the
Guestbook section what they consider to be the difference between viewing a
work of art in real life and in Second Life.

Never before in the history of reproductive media has there been such a
stark contrast between genuinely viewing art in a museum and seeing it in a
form conveyed by media technology. As Roth points out, "The real
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and its virtual clone constitute opposite poles:
it is in this charged atmosphere that the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
is conducting this experiment with this new form of communications


Our cooperation partners:

- Institut für Kommunikationswissenschaft der Technischen Universität
Dresden (Institute of Media and Communications, Dresden University of
- Auswärtiges Amt, Berlin (Federal Foreign Office, Berlin).
- Wissenschaftsjahr 2007. Die Geisteswissenschaften - ABC der Menschheit
(Year of Science 2007. The Humanities - the ABC of the Human Race).

Events offered by the Museum Education department: "Art(ificial)"

3rd June 2007, 3 pm CEST (6 am PDT): "Two Heavenly Creatures" - Raphael's
"Sistine Madonna" presented by Karina Peschel. In English

14th June 2007, 8 pm CEST (11 am PDT): "Love Letters" - Vermeer's "Girl
Reading a Letter at an Open Window" presented by Claudia Schmidt. In German

24th June 2007, 5 pm CEST (8 am PDT): "Caution! Hot!" - Liotard´s "Chocolate
Girl" presented by Dr. Carola Marx. In French


WWW: Gemaeldegalerie Alte Meister at Second Life. In: ArtHist.net, Jun 2, 2007 (accessed Jul 23, 2024), <https://arthist.net/archive/29390>.