Surfing for Sculpture

Museums around the world are easily accessible from your living room. Visit Charlottesville, Virginia's Bayly Art Museum with the click of a mouse.

By Amanda Schultz

Forget work. It's time to take the excursion of a lifetime. Hop on the Concord and instruct the pilot to take you wherever you wish. How about a stopover in Paris to visit the Louvre? You've always wanted to look into those mysterious eyes of Leonardo's Mona Lisa. Next stop--Italy, where you can view the works of Michelangelo, Brunelleschi and Bellini. Now it's time to head home to Los Angeles. But wait, you've always been an American history buff. It is imperative that you make a pit stop in Charlottesville, Virginia, where you may visit Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village. Oh, and how convenient, the University of Virginia's Bayly Art Museum is hosting an American Views exhibit with the black and white photographs by David Plowden.

Reality check. You don't have the kind of money to splurge on a weekend getaway to the museums of your choice, not to mention the time factor. You have responsibilities at home and at work or school. Jean Collier, registrar at the Bayly Art Museum, is fully aware of these 'minor' inconveniences. She has tried to accommodate you by creating a Web site that brings the art of the Bayly into the homes and offices of anyone with Internet access. You can get a glimpse of Plowden's photographs that reveal the spirit and character of the United States by simply typing in http://www.virginia.edu/~bayly/bayly.html, where you will find the Bayly Web site.

With today's technology, the computer keyboards are cockpit controls, and the monitor is the window that lets you look out into museums and galleries all over the world. You are the pilot picking your destination. Collier is traffic control; she maps the quickest route to a destination and assures a smooth ride.

Although most museums have Web sites, the smaller museums find the Internet to be a surefire way to preserve their temporary exhibits and make them available to the world-wide community. "The Bayly benefits from its Web site because the museum itself owns over 8,400 pieces, but the building capacity allows for about five percent of its collections to be shown," Collier says. There are other advantages: "The Web is effective as a platform for publishing exhibition records which would otherwise go unpublished," she notes.

Sitting in front of her computer, Collier explains in her sweet southern drawl that with a degree in public relations journalism from the University of South Carolina, she sees the computer as a powerful tool for enticing people to come to the Bayly Art Museum. After taking the University of Virginia's free computer classes, including HTML and scanning workshops, Collier was able to incorporate computer technology into her museum job. Students, faculty and interested people all over the world visit the Bayly site for information on exhibits, gallery lectures, and unique computer-oriented classes at the university. She updates the site two or three times a year.

Many other students and professors are using the Web to both submit and access information in the art world. Professor Howard Singerman, a member of the art history faculty, has set up his own site with digital images for his students to study outside of the classroom. Students in Singerman's Art Since 1945 class find that being able to access images viewed during class allows more time to contemplate the works by artists like Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko.

The architecture school has at least three classes, including landscape architecture, that put images on Web sites. A student can visit famous gardens around the world simply by accessing Professor Ruben Rainey's Virtual Tour site. African Art and the Virtual Museum is an undergraduate course offered in both the religious studies and art history departments, taught by Benjamin Caleb Ray. "The challenge of this course is to create exhibitions of African art that attempt to be true to the objects themselves, while placing images of them in a cultural environment of educational value to the exhibitor and the viewer alike," according to the course description. Students are able to combine primitive culture with the technological world of today.

Although people may log onto sites that have curatorial comments and archival information about works of art, this experience does not seem to affect their inclination to visit museums and research material in libraries. You may only find titles, sizes, marks and brief descriptions that accompany works of art on the Web, therefore it is necessary for you to conduct your research further in the library or by visiting museums. "I would hope that these computer sites intrigue people to visit museums," says Collier.

The Bayly site only receives 50 hits a day, but Collier believes it is a success because requests from students and faculty confirm that the Bayly is reaching the university community. A recent article in the New York Times by Judith Dobrzynski says, "It looks as if the 90's are the age of the art museum in the united States, perhaps even the Golden Age." Many museums are constructing and expanding, notes Dobrzynski. The Bayly is among these growing museums. The Bayly Web site has expanded and improved over the past two years, and may have been the tool that has enticed people to visit the museum.

Due to the influx of activity at the Bayly as well as the growing collections, the Bayly is aiming to expand its building within the next year. It is necessary to enlarge the actual building structure to assure climate control and special care for the works entrusted to the Bayly Art Museum. The museum is plugging in to other museum Web sites that show their building programs for ideas on the Bayly's expansion over Carr's Hill. Collier confirms that there is constant research going on between museums, not only about art, but about building structure and set up. The museum is trying to be more interactive and hands on by bringing video installations to its exhibits. There is also talk of placing kiosks in certain rooms to provide viewers with interesting facts and information on artists and their works. While technology is serving as art, it is also enabling the preservation of art and recording pertinent facts and information on various pieces.

Collier has reached beyond the university community with her Web site and hopes to continue its development as the Bayly Museum and its collections increase in size. Being able to access most works of art from your personal computer is a luxury, but nothing compares to actually seeing a piece in person, looking at its workmanship and seeing its texture. While Collier works to chart an easy course for her pilots, she encourages everyone to visit museums. She advocates taking computer courses and becoming proficient with the Internet, yet she does not want anyone to become lazy and dismiss the fulfilling experience achieved by visiting museums and seeing masterpieces in person. While the computer may take you to the future, it is the actual artwork that existed in the past and preserves the history of humanity.

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