A Comparative Study of Two Online Collections

Photograph of a Meiji Period plaque in the V&A’s Japan collection, that is discussed in the article below.

The restricted access to museums and art galleries, due to Coronavirus, has increased the importance of having artworks freely accessible online. Digitally presented artworks can simultaneously inform and inspire the viewer. The essay below compares two such digital presentations.

Juxtaposing an educational and commercial organisation, The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and Asian Art in London, allows for differences in digital stylistic approach and information communication to be identified and evaluated. The Asian Art in London’s virtual exhibition gallery is designed to look like a real life art gallery with images of the artworks hanging on walls in a computational space that can be navigated with the use of a mouse and keypad. Clicking on artworks leads to a more detailed view. There is also the option of having a “guided tour”. Conversely, the V&A has adopted for a more straightforward website format with “about”, “highlights”, “features” and “shop” sections. The highlights section displays a limited range of objects but at the bottom there is a link to the V&A’s extensive archive. Although the virtual exhibition appears more exciting initially, the navigation system is tiring and the design does not ultimately improve the viewing experience.

Both websites initially show limited information about each object, with a button to learn more, but the virtual exhibition has the seller in bold before any information about the actual object. As the virtual exhibition’s primary objective is to sell the works, there are links to the seller’s website or a request form. The V&A also has a commercial aspect with a link to their shop. However, it also has features section which contains varied articles and videos related to Japan including ‘Make your own: Japanese ‘Boro’ bag’ and ‘Samurai: Japanese arms & armour’. The variation in content arises due to the fundamentally different motivations of education and commerce.

In the virtual exhibition there is a stunning dish, attributed to Honda Yosaburo, for sale. It is a from the Meiji Period (~1890) with a flower motif comprised of twelve petals on a vibrant blue background. Each petal has a unique and intricate pattern, ranging from geometric shapes to motifs of nature. Its caption identifies it as cloisonné enamel worked in gilt wire and as being 45.5cm x 45.5cm. Searching the V&A catalogue yields multiple similar objects including a Meiji (~1885) plaque that is also made cloisonné enamel with gilded brass wires and rim. This plaque has the same vibrant blue background but is separated into seven sections, each showing a different scene of animals, people or mythological creatures in nature. The caption identifies the decoration as originating from Japanese legend. It also gives the dimensions as 67.5cm in diameter by 1cm in height, its origins as Nagoya, that it is unsigned and its possible usage as a Western-style table-top. This comparison demonstrates how the information available is generally more extensive on the V&A website.

Asian Art in London’s virtual exhibition and the V&A’s online Japan collection display Japanese objects in distinct ways, focusing on different aspects, but both provide access to view and learn about beautiful objects and their history. 

Links to the websites:

https://www.asianartinlondon.com/exhibition-gallery/

https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/japan

V&A Plaque Museum Number FE.96-2016

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