The Virtual in Museums: Hot Medium?


An analysis and commentary on a CAS report which covers an increasingly relevant topic within the cultural sector: the use of Virtual Reality in Museums and Galleries, through Augmented and Immersive technology.

The 2018 Contemporary Art Society annual conference hosted at the National Gallery London chose the topic of VR and Museums as a ‘hot’ medium’ under the heading – The Virtual in Museums : Hot Medium. (See their full report below).

It is good to see that Marshall McLuhan lives on through his ideas of hot and cold mediums. A hot medium being one that completely surrounds and immerses the user. Questions related to the use of Virtual Reality in Museums and Galleries through Augmented and Immersive reality technology are increasingly relevant in the sector. Indeed this technology may change the traditional role of Museums and Art Galleries. More probably the new technology will give an additional element to the Museum and Art Galley function, in the way say accessibility has become an integral part of Museum and Art Gallery operations over the last thirty years. Perhaps the question to ask is what advantages will the new technology of experience give to Museums and Art Galleries to fulfil their mission.

The new staff skills needed in this new environment may well lead to new staff structures. These staff structures are already breaking away from line management into flexible working teams. Flexible working teams provide the best space for the desired Museum and Art Gallery experience. The addition of VR technology into the staff skill mix will only accelerate this trend.

Collecting the creative product of our time is already changing and will continue to change. Already the video art of the 80’s can only be shown if it has been transferred to a contemporary technologically playable medium. Conservation departments may become more like re-creation departments, or else a new departments able to do this may need to be created.

Will Museums and Art Galleries become immersive and augmented reality centres? It is more likely the tools of the new VR technology will refer back to the real objects at the heart of Art Gallery and Museums collections. The risk perhaps is that, having just “virtually” been on the streets of first century Roman London in an immersive experience, actually seeing the archaeological remains on display may be anti-climactic.

What do you think? Please do post your comments below.


Ian Duckworth
Associate Director of Research, Barker Langham Recruitment

Ian is experienced in Human Resources and Recruitment, where he has planned and delivered his recruiting services for clients such as the British Museum, Tate, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Imperial War Museum, National Museums Liverpool (all UK), the Cradle of Humankind and De Beers ‘Big Hole’ (South Africa).

Ian has 15 years of public and private sector experience in global (including USA and Russia) Museums and Galleries across Nationals, Internationals, Local Authorities and Independent Trusts. His most recent projects at Barker Langham Recruitment has been providing human resources consultancy services and staff recruitment for the Strelka Institute in Moscow, Russia; recruiting a senior staff member for a new national museum in Oman; providing organisational, training, and human resources consultancy work for Shindagha Museum in Dubai, UAE; and also delivering human resources, organisational planning and human resources consulting services to Japan House in London, UK. 

Ian has published global research and development work including Museums and Heritage training, competency frameworks, skills transfer and recruitment trends analysis. He holds a Diploma in European Cultural Studies from Warwick University, a Diploma in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from the University of Manchester and a BA History (Hons) from King’s College London. Ian is fluent in English and Catalan.

Flora KissComment