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Museums go online in time of self-quarantine over coronavirus

All News 17:02 March 12, 2020

By Park Boram

SEOUL, March 12 (Yonhap) -- A special virtual reality video on the website of the National Museum of Korea lets visitors tour the museum's major exhibitions on a smartphone in the safety of their homes.

The national museum adopted the virtual tour service, supported by U.S.-based 3D technology platform Matterport, earlier this month after it closed its doors while South Korea struggles to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The technology, often utilized in online real-estate listings, gives the visitor floor-plan and dollhouse views of an exhibition, as well as a closer look at each item and its description, without having to visit the brick-and-mortar museum.

Currently, several exhibitions, all previously hosted by the museum, can be accessed freely on the museum's website. They include "Gaya Spirit - Iron and Tune" and "The Etruscans - Rising to Rome."

Many art museums and galleries are accelerating their efforts to bring the unique spatial experience of visiting a museum online, as they close down temporarily while more people stay at home to ride out the COVID-19 epidemic.

This photo taken on Feb. 25, 2020, shows a notice of closure at the entrance to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Since the last week of February, 36 state-run museums, libraries and theaters nationwide have closed amid the country's coronavirus outbreak. South Korea's biggest art galleries also stopped receiving visitors due to the virus, signaling one of the worst business years for the art and exhibition sectors in a long time.

In a countermeasure, a series of local museums and galleries are coming up with alternative online exhibitions to lure in art lovers and dealers in this time of self-quarantine.

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) also intensified its online exhibition program when it closed its doors last month.

Currently, the MMCA is providing about 10 YouTube video tours of major ongoing shows including "The Square: Art and Society in Korea 1900-2019" and "Unearthing Future."

The videos last up to an hour and include a docent service by the shows' curators, as well as subtitles in Korean and English.

The museum is also planning to release a 3D virtual tour service for an upcoming exhibition documenting South Korea's handicrafts history, to be hosted by the museum's Gwacheon branch in the latter half of this year.

On its website, the MMCA is running a visual catalogue of its collection of 8,477 pieces, more than 1,000 of them in high resolution, so that visitors can browse through the museum's permanent collection online.

"Now is a difficult time for people to visit an art museum because of COVID-19, but the MMCA will further step up its online service so that visitors at home and abroad are able, in the safety of their own homes, to experience the inspiration and consolation of viewing artworks," MMCA Director Yun Bum-mo was quoted by the MMCA as saying.

An image of MMCA Director Yun Bum-mo (Yonhap)

Last month, the annual Galleries Art Fair, the longest-running art fair in South Korea, put most of its exhibitions online because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The show organizer filmed each exhibition booth and uploaded the videos during the show from Feb. 19-23. It also had a special online transaction platform for dealers to make purchases.

Despite marketing efforts, the art fair drew only 13,000 offline visitors this year, sharply down from last year's 36,000. Another 15,000 visitors caught the show online.

Art Basel Hong Kong, a major international art fair, will kick off its first "Art Basel online viewing room" to feature artworks from around the world after cancelling its annual on-site event, originally scheduled to run from March 19-21.

Local gallery Hakgojae plans to submit a handful of works to the same platform from March 20-25, including a media piece by Paik Nam-june, the pioneer of video art.


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