Virtual tours can’t beat real life art galleries like ours

It feels strange to be announcing an opening when London museums and galleries are once again closing their doors. But having closed in 2018, I was delighted to confirm that The Courtauld Gallery will be reopening in late 2021.

a large building

© Provided by Evening Standard

When we developed our plans, no one could have imagined the year the cultural sector has just experienced. It is a year when the generosity of others has mattered to the sector like never before.  

In our own case, the transformation of the gallery would not have happened without a wide range of supporters — including the National Lottery Heritage Fund and, as we announced yesterday,  a £10 million donation from philanthropists Sir Leonard and Lady Blavatnik, and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

It has also been a year that has made us all ask many questions about our current and future role. One of the most fascinating is the what role virtual experiences should play.  

As the first lockdown hit the UK, visits to our virtual gallery tour rose by 2,000 per cent, with people from across the world commenting how it had lifted their spirits and others flocking  to sign up to our short courses, to fill their time at home.

Gallery: The world’s legendary historic hotels (Love Exploring)

an old photo of a large city: If the walls of these historic hotels could talk, they would whisper of royal guests, political deals, wild parties and, in the case of The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, some very famous ducks. There are the world’s oldest hotels which have witnessed more than a millennium of check-ins and check-outs, and those which have packed luggage-loads of history into a few centuries or decades. Here are some of the most historic hotels around the world.

Which begs the question, do we need physical galleries at all? If people can view, study and discuss art from home, what does a physical experience add? Part of the appeal of our virtual tour cam from the ability for visitors to zoom down to the smallest detail – to see the artist’s brush strokes, and glimpse their creative process.  

Of course 2020 has changed how we work for ever, and it is all to the good that galleries like ours are using digital channels to share collections with as many people as possible.  

But there’s no substitute for sharing physical works of art in real time and space. We should not forget that physically viewing art is about other things too — a space for quiet contemplation, exploring history and social issues, or a just chance to meet with friends (remember that?) to share something new.  

For that, galleries still matter — and until The Courtauld Gallery reopens, I look forward to future visits to our fellow London museums and galleries.

Professor Deborah Swallow is  Märit Rausing director of The Courtauld