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Beyond the Gallery: All you need to know about Virtual Exhibitions

History of Virtual Exhibitions

Museum Interior
Museum Interior. 2023. Source.

In 1985, the Woman's Heritage Museum was established with the purpose of honoring women through exhibitions, public programs and educational resources. However, in 1997, faced with the challenge of lacking funds to create a physical museum, the organization — now known as the International Museum of Women (IMOW) — had to decide on their next steps. They had the choice to continue their publication efforts and hold onto the dream of building a physical space or to explore alternative options. It was during this critical moment that the idea of opening a digital museum was conceived.
In 2009, long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced institutions to adapt their content for online platforms, the IMOW became the first-ever entirely virtual museum. They not only promoted important global issues regarding politics and human rights, but they also gave emerging female artists a platform — many for the first time. This pioneering move paved the way for other successful digital museums such as the International New Media Gallery and the Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art. Despite lacking a physical presence, these virtual spaces have demonstrated that art education can flourish in the digital realm.

Global Pivot

Ufizi Gallery in Florence

Ufizi Gallery in Florence. 2023. Source.

Today, nearly every major museum leverages its online presence to create captivating online exhibitions. For instance, the New Orleans Historical Society showcases the vibrant culture of New Orleans through thought-provoking adaptations of dance and music, utilizing online videos and sound bites. The Smithsonian's series, Smithsonian Stories: African American Groundbreakers, is another example of how art historians, educators and enthusiasts harness the virtual space to foster creativity and ensure accessibility to a diverse audience.


At M.S. Rau, a similar realization unfolded when the pandemic compelled the closure of our doors for the first time in over 109 years. Adapting to the situation, we promptly began curating online exhibitions, which allowed us to continue sharing our research and art with audiences worldwide. The unexpected popularity of these virtual exhibitions surprised us all, as we discovered that webinars and online events brought us closer than ever to clients across the globe.


Although we have reopened our physical doors, we recognize the immense value of an online exhibit. By entering a virtual exhibition, visitors can experience the remarkable pieces and their compelling stories in a manner reminiscent of walking through a gallery with one of their favorite art experts. Therefore, we continue to invest our resources in creating captivating virtual exhibitions alongside our physically displayed artwork.

Types of Virtual Exhibitions

Adaptations of In-Person Exhibitions

At M.S. Rau, we go beyond simply presenting in-person exhibitions online; we offer a diverse range of virtual-only exhibitions with exclusive content. Our approach combines the best of both worlds. For instance, we recently launched an in-gallery exhibition called The Witty World of Patrick Hughes and celebrated it with an open-to-the-public meet and greet featuring the artist himself. However, recognizing that many art enthusiasts couldn't attend the event in person, so to bridge the gap and reach a wider audience, we recorded an insightful interview with the artist, which we then released alongside our virtual exhibition of the same title. This allowed us to create an immersive online experience that art enthusiasts worldwide could enjoy.


Exhibition Landing Page at

Exhibition Landing Page at 2023.

Unique Virtual Features

Singing music box featured in Hidden in Plain Sight. 2022.


Singing music box featured in Hidden in Plain Sight. 2022.

A different kind of virtual exhibition that we utilize at M.S. Rau is an online-only curation with a unique theme. One of our most popular art exhibitions, Hidden in Plain Sight, began with a brainstorming session wherein we discussed some of the most asked questions we hear around the gallery: “What would they keep in there?” When one of our researchers recalled the following quote, we knew we were onto something great:

In Edgar Alan Poe’s beloved mystery The Purloined Letter, the French Chief of Police searches the apartments of a royal minister in vain for a letter stolen from royalty. In frustration, he states, “Any man is a dolt who permits a 'secret' to escape him in a search of this kind. The thing is so plain. There is a certain amount of bulk of space to be accounted for in every cabinet.”

Cabinet exploration in the virtual exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight. 2022.


Cabinet exploration in the virtual exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight. 2022.

Here in the gallery we have many cabinets, most with hidden compartments and “secrets.” Throughout the exhibit, guests can access features such as pop up boxes on each of the pieces’ compartments, videos of our CEO Bill Rau explaining the historical significance of the pieces and explore a specially curated collection of works. With items to satisfy every curiosity, it is no surprise that this exhibition remains our most shared and frequented.

Benefits of Virtual Exhibitions

      1. Accessibility: Virtual exhibitions break down geographical barriers, allowing individuals from anywhere in the world to access and engage with timeless works of art.
      2. Convenience: Virtual exhibitions provide the flexibility of experiencing art at any time and from any location. There are no constraints of opening hours or limited exhibition durations.
      3. Immersive Experience: With advanced technologies, a virtual exhibition can replicate the feeling of walking through a gallery or museum. Visitors can navigate through virtual rooms, view artworks up close and even interact with certain exhibits.
      4. Enhanced Curatorial Narratives: Virtual exhibitions offer curators the opportunity to present work with enhanced storytelling capabilities. They can incorporate multimedia elements such as videos, audio guides and contextual information to provide deeper insights into the artworks, the artists' intentions, and the historical or cultural context surrounding them.
      5. Extended Reach and ExposureVirtual exhibitions have the potential to reach a global audience, expanding the visibility and exposure of artists and their work. This exposure is essential for starting or embellishing one’s art collection.
      6. Preservation and Archiving: Virtual exhibitions provide a means to digitally preserve and archive artworks, ensuring their accessibility for future generationsIt allows for the conservation of fragile or ephemeral pieces that may not be easily displayed in a physical setting.

Explore Virtual Exhibitions

Have we convinced you yet? Explore just some of our many virtual exhibitions and sign up to be the first to know about our upcoming exhibition! See you there!


Crowning Jewels: A Curated Exhibition of Royal Jewels and Rare Gems

Crowning Jewels: A Curated Exhibition of Royal Jewels and Rare Gems

Crowning Jewels highlights the elemental allure of fine jewelry through a curated collection of royal jewels, exceptionally rare gemstones and stunning designer creations. Meant to be worn and admired, jewelry shines, sparkles and catches the eye, inspiring creativity and desire. Featuring some of the most important names in jewelry design, including Harry Winston, Cartier and JAR, as well as some of the most noteworthy jewelry collectors of the 20th century, including the Duchess of Windsor and the Duchess of Alba, this exhibition showcases the sartorial elegance that only the finest jewels can provide.

The Grand Tour: The Allure of Antiquity

The Grand Tour: The Allure of Antiquity

For centuries, one of the most formative cultural experiences a young European could embark upon was the Grand TourThis tour, mainly enjoyed by English men belonging to the upper classes, was a rite of passage intended to round out one’s classical education. It could last months or even years, and it encompassed a journey across Europe with a special emphasis on Italy. This exhibition highlights the revival of classicism in England; in turn, the prominence of Neoclassicism fueled a fascination with Italy and ancient civilizations that changed the art world forever.

Extravagant Jewels: A History of Jewelry Design

Extravagant Jewels: A History of Jewelry Design

For centuries, humankind has sought to adorn its body, embracing the aesthetic attractions of Extravagant JewelsJewelry is among history’s oldest known artifacts, with examples dating back 100,000 years. Like the decorative and fine arts, the jeweler's artwork is a reflection of its place and time, with changing fashions, techniques and materials influencing jewelry forms of each new decade. This virtual gallery explores the complex historic and stylistic changes of jewelry design in the 19th and 20th centuries.


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