Inside Singapore’s museum without walls

By Varissara Charassangsomboon

The National Gallery is putting up virtual exhibitions and engaging visitors with AI.

“Art, in fact, has always been disrupting itself,” says Chong Siak Ching, CEO of the National Gallery of Singapore. But digital technology has accelerated this trend.

“Without question, the way culture is consumed today has changed,” Chong adds. Art is now created digitally, or exists only in virtual reality.

This creates pressure on cultural institutions to keep up. Singapore’s National Gallery has turned to technology to empower artists and attract more visitors.

A digital exhibition

The National Gallery wants to build “museums without walls”, using technology to enable artists and museum professionals to engage and inspire visitors, she says.

Unrealised is the Gallery’s digital exhibition, which allows visitors to view customised artworks on their smartphones. The Gallery is also working on a project to let people see artworks in everyday objects, such as currency. For example, people can see paintings by casting their smartphone cameras on $50 bills. This creation would allow people to enjoy art virtually from anywhere.

AI Helpers

The National Gallery is using primitive AI to automate simple tasks. For example, there is a chatbot to engage with visitors and provide them with information about the artworks. Meanwhile, a local startup provides Evie, a personal assistant that schedules meetings and books rooms.

The museum is also using data on visitors’ profiles to better understand their interests and why they visit museums. This “allow us to integrate the visitor into the museum experience from the very beginning of the journey, which starts before they even step in”. Their initial research shows that visitors to the National Gallery cut across age groups and many are looking to learn about their local communities.

Museums of the future

Singapore’s National Gallery is not alone; museums across the world are embracing technology to give visitors a better experience. At the Estonian National Museum, electronic paper signage gives visitors a personalised experience. Visitors each receive a radio-frequency-identification (RFID) card that triggers the signs to change to their preferred languages.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles is harnessing the power of virtual reality for an expedition down to the ocean floor, where they get to explore whale skeletons and shipwrecks.

The Asian Civilisation Museum is making history more relevant to millenials by connecting artefacts with their own life experiences. For example, visitors can use augmented reality to virtually walk through an ancient shipwreck scene.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s ArtLens Gallery features 16 games that encourage visitors to interact with the artworks and a rotating collection to provide novel experiences for returning visitors.

At a time when Instagram and Snapchat turn teenagers into artists, museums can hope that digital media will help nurture a deeper appreciation for the arts and culture, and keep visitors coming back.