Can a virtual tour replicate feelings, meanings, values?

The google art platform enables the users to virtually tour museums around the world, explore information about artwork, and see high quality reproductions of different famous pieces.

Initially this looks like a great project, which gives you the ability to virtually be in any museum and see the art work available.

But how does this experience actually feel? Is it enough to reproduce the real experience of visiting an actual museum?

These questions to me relate to the hot debate about books vs. ebook, and how we use technology in our advantage to replicate the feel of a book, but no matter how good we are at that, we can never replace the feel and experience holding a book in your hand and reading it, and let’s not forget about technical features like the battery and electricity. If your ipad/pc runs out of battery, then everything that was available to you is gone in seconds..  upsss…

The same argument can be made for the google art project, but in this case the issue is a little bit deeper, because now we’re talking about culture, and the museum itself as a cultural function and cultural institution.

As Dr. Irvine explains, drawing from the insights of Malraux, Bourdieu, Latour, Debray, O’Doherty, and institutional theory, as a cultural institution, the museum (like the school or library) is a social construction, a reproducible function, given visible symbolic form in physical spaces (actual architected environments) as mediums for transmitting and reproducing the function. Rather than thinking about the museum function in some kind of neutral, pre- or non-technological state, we should rethink the museum in its network of functions and mediations, which are implemented in a historical continuum of technical systems (including the text and image technologies used to represent the artefacts organized by a museum and the symbolism of architecture).

As users, when we look at one of the galleries in a museum we can experience different things.

Let’s take a look at the features that are available to us.

It gives us the ability to zoom in, have a virtual tour, 360 degrees videos, street view, simulations.

This brings us to the Malraux’s dilemma which states: “Any technology for representation, reproduction, transmission, and access will need to be recruited and authorized to mediate the cultural functions of the museum and artworld”.

Cultural functions are not determined by specific technologies of mediation;
rather, cultural functions (institutions, categories of value: “Art”) precede any specific technology of mediation the technologies require validation for cultural functions.

Any artwork that we see is an interface to the system of meaning and values that made it possible. All cognitive, representational interfaces implement semiotic principles.

It is the human interaction with an artifact that makes that experience meaningful and valuable, and there is no virtual technology that can replicate that.


Benjamin, Walter “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939).

Agostino,Cristiano “Distant Presence and Bodily Interfaces: ‘Digital-Beings’ and Google Art Project.” Museological Review – University of Leicester, no. 19 (2015): 63-69.

Martin, Irvine “The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velásquez to the Google Art Project”

Proctor, Nancy  “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2, 2011.