Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories
MUSEUMS AND THE WEB 1998

Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

info @ archimuse.com

www.archimuse.comArchives and Museum Informatics Home Page

published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010

Papers

The Importance of a Virtual Museum in a Third World Country: The Experience of MUVA, Virtual Museum of Arts El País

By Alicia Haber, Director.

 

Note: This paper addresses only the experience of MUVA and does not attempt to cover more theoretical issues of museums on the Net.

Acknowledgments: I thank László Erdélyi and Leonardo Setaro for their collaboration and valuable suggestions and comments.

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
THE ART SCENE IN URUGUAY: LIMITATIONS AND PROBLEMS
THE ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT
THE PATRONAGE OF THE NEWSPAPER "EL PAIS"
THE MUSEUM EXPERIENCE
EXHIBITIONS AND CONTENTS
THE ISSUE OF ON-LINE LITERACY
ACCESSIBILITY FOR SPANISH SPEAKING AND NON-SPANISH SPEAKING VISITORS
FEEDBACK AND VISIBILITY
NEXT STEPS
NOTES

 

INTRODUCTION

MUVA, Museo Virtual de Artes El País, Virtual Museum of Arts El Pais http://www.diarioelpais.com/muva (Spanish) and http://www.diarioelpais.com/muva2 (English) was launched on May 20, 1997. It is the biggest and most important web-site in Uruguay and the country's first virtual museum. It is devoted to Uruguayan and Latin American Art.

The rationale for the creation of a virtual museum in Uruguay is very much related to the situation of art in the country and its social and cultural characteristics and not only to the impact of Internet as a new medium.

THE ART SCENE IN URUGUAY: LIMITATIONS AND PROBLEMS

Visual arts are very important in Uruguayan cultural life. In this respect, both national and international experts judge art production to be one of the county's most outstanding characteristics. Furthermore, Uruguayan art is relevant on the Latin American art scene. Nevertheless, the country's art faces all kinds of problems linked to its socio-economic situation and there are many factors hindering its visibility.

Uruguay is an exceptional country within the Latin American context. It is small, some 176.000 square km, with 3,137,668 inhabitants (May 1996 Census) and its general situation is particularly favorable. The entire territory is habitable under excellent conditions; the climate is propitious for agriculture and there is a considerable hydropower potential. Within Latin America, Uruguay has one of the highest GNP per capita and one of the lowest levels of poverty, together with a comparatively equitable distribution of income. Over the past few years and particularly since the early 90's there has been an increase in the GNP, an improvement of public finance and a dramatic reduction in inflation. Macro-economic activity has improved and its results are good. Productivity has also increased, particularly over the past two years. Exports have grown, with non-traditional products forming a considerable portion. There is a more equitable distribution of wealth (the most homogeneous in Latin America according to BID (Inter American Development Bank), moderate growth in many areas.,1 fiscal deficit and external debt have fallen, salaries have risen and inflation is decreasing, Uruguayan trade has expanded and potential new markets are being explored2.

Uruguay has high life expectancy (almost 75 years), and there is very low infant mortality (similar to that of developed countries). It is one of the most urbanized countries in the world: 89.3% of its population are town dwellers and only 10.7% live in rural areas. The capital, Montevideo, is the largest city in the country, accounting for 44.5% of the total population of Uruguay, which is an exceptionally high proportion, giving the country a very special profile3. From the standpoint of quality of life, Montevideo is also quite exceptional. Inter alia, it has been included among the first three best cities of Latin America as chosen by Corporate3d Resources group4.

The population is well educated as education is free of charge and mandatory, the Public University is also free, (and it is the most important university in the country). The adult literacy rate is very high - over 96.5% - and there is a strong well-educated middle class.

In view of the cultural level of the population, there is a considerable number of culture consumers and art finds a receptive audience. However, exhibitions, museums and art centers are not in a good situation and there is a big difference between Uruguay and the developed countries in this respect. There is a gap between the level of creation, the abundant consumption of culture, the high level of attendance to exhibitions and the budget devoted to museums and collections. There is also a gap between the level of quality and the fertile production of art, the enormous quantity of artists in relation to the population and the very low level of investment in museums, collections, purchase of art and a policy of art in public spaces. There is a contrast between the general situation of Uruguay and the circumstances under which the art scene develops.

In Montevideo, the capital city, there are many very good exhibitions. The exhibition scene is active, but there are no first class museums and no first class buildings to house them. No museum has ever been built for that specific purpose. The most important museum in Uruguay was created in 1911 and is housed in a building that was originally a Hygiene Pavilion for the International Exhibitions. Later, it became a museum with some renovations made to it, mainly in 1952 , 1970 and other reforms the 80's. Museums are generally old, refurbished buildings and most of them are not in good shape.

Collections are poor, almost uniquely devoted to Uruguayan art and even then, very incomplete. The most important museum in the country (Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales) only has 4.700 works of art, of which very few are on display. It makes very sporadic acquisitions, receives very few donations and few are of real quality. In the past it used to enlarge the collection with the prizes of the National Salons (public contests) but many years ago, this policy was discontinued and there are no more National Salons. It has no budget for the acquisition of new works of art (some are acquired with some extra funding that is always very limited). The scarcity of contemporary collections is particularly evident. For example, over the last 10 years, only some 20 works of art of real quality have been acquired. There is no sculpture garden yet but fortunately it is under construction and next year it will be inaugurated. It will have an area of 3.500 square meters and only 15 sculptures (the process of creating it began in 1989).

Likewise, there are no museums for crafts, design, photography and video art and no specific collections in these areas in any museum. The paradox is that the Uruguayan production in those areas is very strong. There is no major museum of decorative arts. Most of the museums are devoted to painting, sculpture, drawing, and prints.

Furthermore, permanent collections do not have much space to be exhibited. The most important museum only has 1800 square meters allocated to the permanent collection - the largest space set aside for Uruguayan art in the whole country. Only 800 square meters of that general area is really in very good condition. Most of the work remains in storage. The second most important museum ( Museo Blanes) only has 550 square meters of exhibition space; a collection of only 3.700 works of art, of which only 150 are exhibited.

On the other hand there are very few private museums; they are small, housed in reused building and in many cases the situation is not particularly favorable.

Concerning art centers, the situation is not much better. The most important exhibition center - in terrible shape for years - has finally been renovated. It took three administrations and almost 15 years to take this step. Fortunately the renovation was fast. However, the building is not completely finished yet, although the cost of construction is only around 350.000 dollars and it is only a space of 800 square meters. A new Cultural Center is now almost finished, it was also built quite fast but it is again a reused building; the renovation had a cost of about 200.000 dollars but it only has a small space for exhibitions of 100 square meters.

Local budgets for activities during the year are also very low. For example, in the Municipal sphere in 1998, three museums, the most important exhibition center, in addition to other activities related to literature and art will be allocated a budget of 260.000 dollars which will have to cover catalogues, space design, curatorial tasks, organization of exhibitions and competitions. The most important museum has an annual budget of about 70.000 dollars. Of course in these cases additional funds are covered by sponsors, but they are very limited. Sponsorship is very limited in Uruguay because there is a long tradition of public service and there are no real incentives for private aid to the arts.

Furthermore, although there is a market for modern art and auction houses are very active, there is no market for Uruguayan contemporary art. In addition, there is only one major collector of contemporary Uruguayan art: the Engelman - Ost collection. Most contemporary works of art end up in the artists' studios.

At the same time, over recent years there have been more publications on Uruguayan art; however these are very expensive, often costing over 100 dollars. Therefore, even through books, Uruguayan art does not reach the majority of the population. Although there is wide press coverage of exhibitions and good attendance, the documentation available is not abundant. Catalogs are relatively scarce, poor in illustrations, have limited editions and soon become out of print.

The cultural content of Uruguayan college education is very high. Nevertheless the visual arts do not receive the attention they deserve. No B.A, M.A or Ph.D. programs exist in the field of history of art, although Humanities and Social Sciences are well developed in other areas such as History, Sociology, Linguistics, Literature etc. There are no University courses on Uruguayan art history.

It is true that Uruguayan art is usually present at international exhibitions devoted to Latin American art. In fact, it is very visible at the Sao Paulo Biennial and the Venice Biennial. Uruguay is one of the four Latin American countries that actually owns its own pavilion at the Venice Biennial (since the 50's), a fact that guarantees the presence of Uruguayan art at this event. Nevertheless, Uruguayan art also has problems in achieving visibility on international terms. The country does not have a sufficiently large budget to organize traveling exhibitions frequently. So Uruguayan art is seldom seen in foreign museums, kunsthalle or cultural centers.

The international art circuits are in the hands of mainstream cultures and First World developed countries. Rarely do we find Uruguayan works of art in the major museums of the USA and Europe. Furthermore, Latin American collections are poor, the budget to acquire works of art is very limited and Uruguayan art is not very visible in the continent.

When Uruguayan art is found in major international exhibitions, it is usually displayed due to the regard of curators from First World institutions and hegemonic countries5. Another paradox is that Uruguayan citizens do not get to see many international exhibitions of Uruguayan art. Many times the Uruguayan works shown abroad are not exhibited in the country, as was the case for instance with Gonzalo Fonseca's sculpture at the Venice Biennial, the Pedro Figari exhibition at the Sao Paulo Biennial, and the Barradas and Torres Garcia exhibition in Buenos Aires among others.

At the same time, there is a whole sector of Uruguayans demanding and needing more information on the country and its culture. This is the Uruguayan Diaspora, created during the late sixties (due to the economic crisis which began in 1955) and which increased during the seventies (the main reason was the Coup d'Etat and the military dictatorship between 1973 - 1984). There are some 350.000 Uruguayans living abroad (many of them in the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Israel, Canada, and Italy). They are well educated and maintain strong ties with Uruguay but lack sufficient information on Uruguayan contemporary culture.

Another problem is the county's top heavy organization and the strong concentration of activities in Montevideo. Most of the cultural and artistic life takes place in the capital city and cultural life is heavily centralized. There is a strong need for decentralization and although some efforts are being made, they are still not enough.

Funds for art, museums and art centers are insufficient because the country has undergone a prolonged crisis lasting over 30 years from which it is recovering slowly and very recently. Up to 1955, Uruguay had had the most developed economy in Latin America. Due to its political stability, welfare state policies, and economic well being, it used to be known as the "model country" and "the Switzerland of Latin America". However, this ended with a long and serious crisis involving the stagnation of production, foreign debt, uncontrolled State intervention, paternalism, inordinate growth of bureaucracy, permanent inflation and unemployment. Social unrest grew in the 60's, there were constant strikes, violence increased, urban guerrillas appeared, and socio-economic upheaval led to a Coup d'Etat in 1973 and the establishment of a military regime. Democracy returned in 1984 and is now very stable. Uruguay has returned to its traditional system of freedom and constitutional government. From the economic standpoint, the situation of the country is now much improved but until the mid-nineties, when the pace quickened, it has been a slow recovery.

This is a period of improvement. The country has first order priorities such as health and education and is facing the problems involved in recovering stability and in solving long-term issues. It still has an oversized public sector (for example, almost 70% of Montevideo's municipal budget goes to salaries and the situation is similar in the National Government). This is a heavy burden on the economy. Public expenditure is very high and has to be down scaled, many reforms are needed, and productivity is not high enough yet and investment is still weak. The country is also undertaking a reform and investing in education.

In this context, art has not been a priority so far. Moreover, although much has been done in the last ten years, and some museums and art centers are in somewhat better shape and have many projects and some more budget to grow, they still face many problems, limitations and shortcomings.

Unfortunately, there is almost no tradition of private support to the arts. Uruguay has a tradition of wide social and cultural services provided by the government. Nevertheless, since the 50's it has not had the economic potential to solve this issue properly. Although the government has been reducing bureaucracy, encouraging privatization and public services' efficiency and intends to reform the central administration and down scale the public sector, there are still many issues that rest on the state.

In the cultural and artistic area, there are few private efforts and no incentives such as a tax deduction policy. The issue of image marketing for enterprises has not had the same development as in the United States for example and there are scant mechanisms to attract the private sector. The museums do not have a board of trustees and nor a tradition of donations. Furthermore, there are almost no fund-raising policies, nor are there membership policies, or entrance costs, no museum shops and catalogues are usually free. Therefore there are few resources from income and revenues except the annual budgets allocated by the State or the Municipality and those are very limited.

 

THE ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT

The creation of MUVA is in part related to the frustrations and limitations stemming from certain socio-economic realities and to the constraints of the Uruguayan society. Artists, architects, curators, museum directors fight and suffer but now this virtual experience, in a sense, might help them and offer new ways of satisfaction. Many constraints disappear in Cyberspace.

A web-museum will not solve the problems of Uruguayan art. Furthermore, the intention is neither to substitute reality nor to usurp contacts with real artworks (I am aware of Jean Braudillard and Paul Virilio's warnings and my dream, as a curator, art historian and as a Uruguayan is that we might have in the future a real state of the art museum). This web-museum is an alternative medium to give more visibility to Uruguayan art and calm frustrations in an another realm - the virtual world - possibly giving Uruguayan art a new place in the world.

This is one of the reasons for the creation of MUVA, a project that I began in 1996. I had been working for 20 years in the field of art history and since 1988 in curatorial tasks. I was concerned over several issues and had been writing extensively about them and I wanted to try a new medium to give Uruguayan art more visibility.

At the same time, the creation of MUVA is linked with the local situation concerning Internet. This is a very favorable time for a Web project in Uruguay. Internet itself is growing fast in the country and its consumption in Uruguay is growing dramatically. So to start with, there is a natural local audience for a virtual museum. Uruguay is one of the countries with the largest per capita consumption of Internet in Latin America and there are over 2.000 Web-sites. The rapid proliferation of Internet users in Uruguay is amazing, in the sense that it follows First World patterns. Perhaps, to a certain extent and in certain circles, there is even more eagerness to use the medium in Uruguay because of an intense feeling of isolation of the Southern Cone from the centers of intellectual and cultural power.

 

THE PATRONAGE OF THE NEWSPAPER "EL PAIS"

I wanted to create the virtual museum as soon as possible but, knowing the difficulties the country was undergoing, the slow motion of change following a long period of crisis, I was concerned over red tape issues and bureaucracy. Likewise, I was aware that the financial situation of the University of the Republic (the most important in the country) would not allow it to create such a project yet. Therefore, I approached a sponsor, "El País" the most important newspaper in Uruguay. The project was accepted, backed and since then MUVA belongs to "El País."

The newspaper has the right profile for this sponsorship. It created its own very successful Web-site and the digital version of the newspaper in March 1996 http://www.diarioelpais.com (a prize-winning edition), it has a Digital Department and a Systems and Computer Department. Not only is "El País" interested in digital experiences and Internet projects, but it also has a long history of patronage and of creating specific spaces for the arts. This action is particularly valuable because there is no tax deduction for cultural patronage in Uruguay. "El País" has made all these efforts on a non-profit making basis. This long history of interest in the arts has constantly been spurred by a clear intuition for patronage. An example of that drive is the prestige of the paper's cultural section, the publication of weekly supplements such as "El País Cultural," and the role the newspaper has played in the creation of cultural spaces such as the Centro de Artes y Letras, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, the Teatro del Centro and Ediciones de la Plaza. Similarly noteworthy are the many sponsorships granted to cultural initiatives, which "El País" has not neglected nor ignored. This is why the project was accepted and backed with enthusiasm by the Director of the Digital Department, Mr. Guillermo Pérez Rossell and by the Director of the Board, the architect Eduardo Scheck now President of MUVA.

With the creation of MUVA, the Virtual Museum of Art of Uruguay, the newspaper "El País" continues to broaden its role as patron of the arts. Mr. Eduardo Scheck states that: "There is something inconclusive about the unique emblem of the Portuguese prince, Henry the Navigator. The assurance that navigating is more important than living is fascinating, but navigating where and why? Definitively immersed in Internet with our Digital Edition, we decided that it is time we launched our second vocation on the stormy seas of the Network of Networks: our support to Uruguayan culture. Here you have our first attempt in this sphere: the Impossible Museum"...6

The team. Guillermo Pérez Rossell, formerly Chief Editor of "El País", a post he held for almost 20 years, and General Coordinator of the Digital Department, has been a key figure in opening the doors for the museum and stimulate the newspaper to create it. He was one of the first people to understand the possibilities of a Uruguayan virtual museum in Internet. Guillermo Pérez Rossell is founder in 1996 of the Department of Digital Projects of "El País," and is in charge of the Digital Edition on Internet of the newspaper http://www.diarioelpais.com. Very enthusiastic about the idea, he adopted the project under the Digital Department and since then, he has been responsible for the General Coordination of the MUVA, a vital element in the relation between "El País" and the MUVA staff. His openness to the new technologies led to his responsibility for the deep involvement of "El País" in the World Wide Web and its possibilities. He is most eager to discover new technologies, new media; he studies all Internet's possibilities from the point of view of communications and gets the newspaper involved in all kinds of digital projects. Therefore Guillermo Pérez created a new multidisciplinary team to work at MUVA and became the coordinator of this team.

One of the most important features of MUVA is the manifold variety of disciplines incorporated in its staff. The staff includes a curator and art historian, journalists, graphic designers, technicians, and photographers, who bring their experience to this new enterprise. One of the most interesting characteristics of this project is the different profiles of the team. I come strictly from the area of Humanities and have been working in the field of art history and in curatorial activities. There are photographers specialized in visual art, two journalists, four architects, two Masters in Physics and webmasters, one graphic and digital designer and experts in computer science.

In this multidisciplinary working team each person contributes with the best of his or her own area of knowledge and the whole museum is created following periods of discussions and a intensive process of checking everybody's ideas. In a first stage, each member of the team covers the critical points of his own area; in a second stage, everybody looks at each other's critical points, in a very creative discussion. Of course, it is the responsibility of the staff coordinators (the General Coordinator, the Director of MUVA and the editor) to bring these discussions to a successful end, endeavoring to reach the high quality standards that are the goals of MUVA.

 

THE MUSEUM EXPERIENCE

Taking into consideration the shortcomings of the Uruguayan art scene and the possibilities Internet has to offer, MUVA endeavors to display the best Uruguayan art in a virtual realm that gives a strong sensation of reality.

The idea is to use the Web as an exhibition medium that will recreate the museum experience and to mimic as far as possible the sensation of being inside a building. The guiding principle in this line of thought is the generation of virtual environments closely linked to reality.

The building. MUVA is located in a special building designed by architects, which could be built at any time. This has been a way to give Uruguayan architects an opportunity in the field of museum architecture, among other things. In fact, it is the first time in Uruguayan history that a team of architects has been able to design a new building for an art museum.

On the other side this is the first virtual building designed in Uruguay and it starts a new chapter in the Uruguayan history of architecture. MUVA belongs to a whole chapter of architecture, "virtual architecture" or "information architecture" (I borrow the term from Larry Burks in his Thesis " Information Architecture: The Representation of Virtual Environments", Harvard University Graduate School of Design and is one more example in the history of architecture of "unbuilt architectural designs" (such as the ones shown in "Quondam, A virtual museum of architecture" http://members.aol.com/quondam001/aboutq.html) that now have the possibility to exist in the virtual realm. So this project is also a way to stimulate Uruguayan creativity in the area of architecture and design. This potential of virtual architecture has been realized by many, among others by Michael Gough who states " freed of Newtonian constraints, the imagination will flourish. There is an opportunity here that is more conceptual and potentially paradigmatic than anything in conventional architecture". I take the quote from a dissertation that was recently (March 2, 1998) sent to me via e mail by its author: Simon Forestiero's dissertation, "The virtual narrative, can a virtual gallery convey an architectural experience?" (appendix a: http://www.mmu.ac.uk/art-des/arc/people/sforestiero/diss.htm)

The rationale for this creation is that the construction of an art museum such as the outstanding ones in the great metropolitan capitals of the world, would have cost from 50 to 100 million dollars, a prohibitive sum in the situation of Uruguay. A new museum is not even in the long-term plans of the Government or the Municipality. And private museums are small and have not projects of major growing. Moreover, even if it were to be, it would take a long time to build: budgets are always limited for this type of project. As an example, Uruguay's most important Performance and Cultural Center, the SODRE was burnt down in 1971; in 1987, the Government decided to build a new center with a budget of around 70 million dollars. It is being built but at a very slow pace. Started over 10 years ago, although near the end, it is yet not ready and will probably take three more years.

Thus, the progress in virtual reality and development of Internet has made a great adventure possible: the design of what today is an impossible museum for Uruguay and at least have it in a virtual form. Thus, for Uruguayans the creation of a virtual museum has some specific connotations.

Four architects were commissioned to prepare the plans for the building and they designed it with DataCAD. The architects Jaime Lores, Raúl Nazur, Daniel Colominas and Marcelo Mezzottoni of the firm of Mezzotoni-Scheck & Partners designed MUVA's structure and created a virtual building. They created a fine arts museum, consisting of galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as spaces for informal shows, sculpture garden, restoration workshops, and administrative services areas.

They worked as if they were going to build a real museum. The building area would be in the "real" space of 6000 square meters and its virtual location is the southeast corner of Plaza de Cagancha, fronting on Avenida 18 de Julio, Calle Zelmar Michelini and Calle San José. It is in the very heart of downtown Montevideo. The building has five main floors and three additional levels, spatially interconnected using multiple heights. The ground floor is connected to the Plaza through an arcade-like transition space, which acts as the base for the upper facade, in turn finished with a false porticoed façade enclosing the sculpture garden located on the roof. Volumetrically, the heights and planes prevailing in the adjacent buildings are respected, but contrast is achieved with materials and the large surfaces on which they are applied. The point where the Plaza meets Avenida 18 de Julio is highlighted by a vertical circular tower that rises over the main body of the building, and whose vertical axis is oblique in relation to the orthogonal directions.

The conception proposes to accentuate the importance of the corner on which it is located, by elevating it above the main block. This idea is reinforced by the inclusion of an oblique axis with respect to the orthogonal directions commanding the composition. The building uses classical corner designs to be seen on Avenida 18 de Julio, the main artery of Uruguay's capital, Montevideo. Among others, the Palacio Salvo, Lapido and Sorocabana buildings, are concrete examples of this trend.

Another important idea behind the creation of the virtual building is the presentation of art in a spatial context in order to convey a sensation similar to the one experienced in a museum and enhance the visual contact with artworks. These ideas played a major role in the project.

Design and HTML The building, its galleries and hallways, its public spaces and archives have a virtual dimension emulating that "impossible" museum. Design programs and the designers' creativity make it possible to generate surprisingly high-quality images. The architects' plans are the basis for the design of the museum, where elaborate textures of pixels in thousands of colors give shape to walls, stairways, windows, sidewalks, roofs, spots, and virtual lighting. It is a complex yet precise construction endeavor, making the museum's six floors and ground level entirely navigable and enabling visitors to feel as if they were in a "real"-virtual museum.

Based on the architectural project, the digital graphic designer Mario Buchichio took over the digital production of MUVA. He created the 3D version of the museum. His role was to turn the gray-walled skeleton provided by the architects into a virtual structure that would look like a real building and be credible to its visitors. He generated the structure, which was then trimmed and lit to house the Museum's art works. He took charge of the general decoration, the textures of the walls, the installation of floors and glass, the finishing of the stairways, the construction of the elevator and of the stairs. He had to work in a virtual building, because no photography was used as reference; he computer-generated everything. He always bore in mind ease of navigation so he avoided over heavy images.

A very important part of this construction process is the interaction with the physicist Leonardo Setaro, to ensure that the design would be compatible with the technique for navigating MUVA implemented by Web2mil 7. These realistic effects of 3D design are combined with a special use of HTML.

One of the most critical discussions in the process of making MUVA was in the selection of the technology to put the museum on-line. The decision was between the newest VRML technology, with astonishing virtual reality performance and the more traditional HTML design. On the VRML "side" were the webmasters of the team; on the HTML side were the others, including the graphic designer. The problem was not easy. VRML technology gives the possibility to "move" inside the 3D spaces, walk through, go up and down, but it is a heavy software program, having difficulties in coping with the transmission speed in Internet and the quality of the graphics did not seem to be the best. The other problem with VRML was that users would need a plug-in, a software that must be downloaded and installed in the user's computer and we were aware that average users resist installing a strange software component in their computers.

Therefore, following a period of discussion, the team decided in favor of HTML. The team opted for HTML for many reasons. It wanted MUVA to be very accessible and to have very good graphic quality. It wanted the easiest navigation possible and opted for a navigation that would not require the downloading of software or plug-ins. In MUVA only a browser with no external applications is needed to enjoy a user-friendly museum.

Most of the sites in the Net that give 3-D sensation of virtual reality use Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML). To view the sites properly, the visitor needs a VRML viewer or plug-in. Virtual realities are created with different programs, for example, with Bubble Photographs, Quick Time VRML, 360 degree Panoramas, Live Picture, 360 degree Panoramic Images, Quick Time VR but they all required plug-ins. In the case of MUVA, real environments are simulated using the HTML language that is taken to its very limits.

One of the ideas is to convince the navigator to enter the virtual world of MUVA easily, forgetting about the PC and the browser. Thus MUVA encourages the user to visit the building, enter another reality, have a virtual sensation, live an illusion. The goal is to give the sensation of entering a virtual realm, forgetting about the normal commands and only use MUVA commands. The commands are intuitive and related to the normal movements of human beings. Thus, the commands relate to the sensation of advancing from one hall to the other, to being able to move around an exhibition hall, to go up and down the staircases, to travel up and down the elevators, to approach the information desk and to send messages. The users can rotate, advance and go back, looking at the 3D images that simulate 3D spaces and have to an extent the sensation of visiting a museum and enjoy its architecture and at the same time enjoy the works of art.

The intention at the same time is to keep things relatively fast. A user with a standard computer and a 28.8 KBPS modem connected to a good ISP can visit the halls quite fast. Each point of view is 26 Kbytes, and if the visitor decides on the eight points of view offered in each hall and a complete rotation, he or she can see the total hall with the rotations in 104 seconds. In 15 seconds, the visitor approaches the walls; zooms to the paintings and sculptures take 50 seconds. (Of course, the speed varies according to the ISP, the time of day, the country and the hardware used, so this process can be faster or slower).

MUVA tends to have accessibility and thus tries to be a user-friendly Net environment, able to present art on the web in the best way possible. The museum can be accessed with standard equipment and software and it does not have any special requirements except for Netscape 3.0. At present, it can also be visited by the latest version of Microsoft Explorer.

Budget. One of the issues MUVA faces is its budget. We cannot overburden the newspaper, which is fully backing a very special project with no financial return, in a country where there is no tax deduction for sponsorship of cultural projects. We have to bear in mind that "El País" is a newspaper and has other priorities. So MUVA has to use already existing human and equipment resources and in that sense, the budget is limited. Therefore, expensive hardware, software or external consulting are not used. In this project, there are no high tech computers, high-end or state of the art hardware and software such as that offered by Silicon Graphics. For instance, the designer uses a normal high performance PC Pentium, a clone of 120 Megabytes RAM and 6 Gigabyte hard drive. His software is a 3D program, that is already two years old and only cost 1.500 dollars, while a more sophisticated one would have cost 7.000 dollars. And this software was not specially created to design a 3D building, so he has had to come up with procedures which, so to speak, he has to invent. MUVA is also able to use the scanner the newspaper owns, a Pixel Craft. Thus, more technical creativity is involved and fewer resources are used than would have been the case under more favorable conditions. We all aim at achieving the best results possible in a cost-effective way.

 

EXHIBITIONS AND CONTENTS

MUVA specializes in one of the most significant contributions to Latin American Art: modern and contemporary Uruguayan art and, in the near future, it will open its doors to other examples of Latin American art. It offers the visitor the possibility of viewing on the home computer, quality representations of the best Uruguayan art and takes advantage of the Web and of a medium that is well suited to image-intensive exhibits of artworks

MUVA seeks new opportunities for Uruguayan art and tries to give it more visibility. It offers a new venue for Uruguayan artists and wants to increase and improve opportunities for Uruguayan artists to enable them to come closer to the national and international art community. Thus, it fosters recognition of Uruguayan art.

The role envisioned for the virtual museum is to advocate, support and promote Uruguayan art and provide information on the subject. The idea is to disseminate knowledge about the country and make its resources and cultural heritage more accessible. At the same time, MUVA endeavors to decentralize culture.

In the interim, it also tries to cover the needs of the Uruguayan Diaspora. It might well be a new source of syllabi for Latin American studies. MUVA hopes to encourage cultural diversity on the Net, and one of the goals we hope to achieve is to attract different profiles of visitors and increase the number of our viewers. MUVA also aims at attracting new audiences for art, for the "real " museums and collections and to stimulate them to enjoy "real" artworks

Openness. As the director and curator of MUVA, my goal is that it should make a broad spectrum of Uruguay's artistic creativity available. One of my objectives is to exhibit all kinds of first class Uruguayan art. The museum is particularly pledged to Modern and Contemporary art and emphasizes its commitment to contemporary visual languages that receive scant attention in Uruguayan museums and is less known on the international scene. There is also a theoretical issue involved: MUVA endeavors to be open to change and innovation in the field of art.

It tries to cover the art of the masters, the highlights of Uruguayan art and, at the same time, mid-career art and that of cutting edge artists. It launched its policy of exhibitions with a very well known master, Pedro Figari and a cutting edge artist, Javier Bassi, and has continued with this policy to order to give an opportunity to the young in a country that does not provide many.

MUVA has openness to a variety of forms, styles and media. It displays prints, collages, paintings and an installation, sculptures, photography of different periods and styles: Modern, Contemporary, cutting edge. One of my ideas and one of MUVA's main characteristics is to make it possible to get to know little-explored, often almost inaccessible areas. It allows viewers to reach works in artists' studios and in private collections, ranging from the youngest artists to the masters.

In the process of the curatorial work and decisions that lie in my hands, I visit private collections and artist's studios, make the selection of the artworks that are more interesting and that are not exhibited frequently or that have never been exhibited. Then I write the texts, build the bibliography and write the biographies.

As a next step, the editor and the photographers go to the collections, take the pictures, which are then scanned. The photographers take care of the first stage of every movement in MUVA; they go to the homes of private collectors and to artists' studios to take the pictures of the paintings for the exhibitions. Working in private homes and artist's studios in Uruguay and with the equipment the photographers have, does not always provide ideal conditions for a good photographic job: lack of light, the impossibility of moving the paintings to better places (for example, photographic studios), and shortness of time, makes it essential to consider all the conditions and try to find the best solution. About 20 percent of the paintings and sculptures do not fulfill the ideal technical conditions for inclusion in the exhibitions and are discarded at this first stage.

The editor works in the coordination of the on-line construction. He accompanies the photographer, watches the process, and takes notes of the problems that can be corrected later. He also works with the curator, trying to establish what would be, for example, the best order of the selected paintings in the building's room in order to achieve the highest possible visual impact. He oversees the scanning of the images, the editing of the specific and general texts written by the curator and he, the webmaster and the director, keep searching for involuntary programming mistakes (every exhibition involves hundreds of links and hypertext).

The discourse and practice of a museum. This task lies in my hands since I am the curator and art historian of the team. MUVA tries to maintain the discourse and practice of museum exhibition as regards classification, context, understanding of the viewers and reception. Concerning information, a considerable amount has been put on line about the artists and the images. MUVA aims at creating a substantive commentary on the works and their historical and aesthetic context because we think that this is a very important characteristic of any good museum on the Web.

It includes the normal information given by museums regarding the works of art, (title, date, and size, technique, medium, and location) plus explanatory texts, texts about the historical and cultural context and references to schools, styles, or periods that the works of art represent. Biographies and bibliographies are also included. We also attempt to include personal statements by the artists, particularly in the case of young or cutting edge ones; I do not want to be an hegemonic curator. Thus, for instance in the case of Javier Bassi, a budding artist, I write about his work but he is also given the opportunity to speak about his aims, techniques, the reason he chooses certain materials: he has his own voice. We also want to introduce the visitor to the image of the artist himself and his studio. In the case of Javier Bassi both are included and there is a photograph of the place in which he works and lives. In other cases, such as that of Luis Solari, we were able to refine the option. MUVA displays an illustrated report made by one of our best photographers Panta Astiazaran, who has been given a special exhibition space to hang pictures he took of Solari, his studio and his private museum over the last 20 years of his life.

Content. We wish to balance the possibility of reaching a large number of viewers, while keeping in touch with a group more specialized in taste and knowledge. We do not want neglect one of the most interesting dimensions of Internet: the possibility of reaching enormous numbers of people globally. Furthermore, one of our goals is to attract more people to art, to art appreciation and to Uruguayan art in particular. Decisions become difficult regarding the intellectual level of the texts and this remains a matter of discussion among the team. Eventually we usually decide on a rather broad coverage, suitable for undergraduates and graduates and at the same time try to prepare messages that can also be enjoyed by a more general type of visitor.

Authorship. MUVA is a provider of original content, written specially for it by a professional art historian whose biographical data is on line. We are aware of the difficulties of ascertaining the authority behind Web sites so we include all kinds of information. Anyone can check the credentials and verify the qualifications of the director and author of the texts and of the members of the team. In the event the visitor wishes to have more information, there is a permanent opportunity to communicate through e-mail, different pages provide the possibility to contact us and the team always answers the mail.

MUVA provides wide information on the museum itself in the section Info. Every detail is explained so the visitor has information about the purpose, the origin of the idea, the authorship, message from the director, resume of the director, message by the sponsor, the team, a help section, the history of the sponsor, links, awards, the virtual architecture, the browser required, etc.

Copyright. We are concerned over the unlawful appropriation of artist's images and the inadequate copyright laws applying to Internet. We do not scan from books; we take photographs of original artworks and have the permission of the artists or owners to photograph the works of art, scan them and reproduce them on line.

 

THE ISSUE OF ON-LINE LITERACY

MUVA takes into consideration that there are varying degrees of on-line literacy. It has two help sections. One is quite lengthy and the other very practical, short and explicit. In the shorter Help section, navigation methods are clearly stated and easy to follow, explained and shown in detail and we endeavor that the museum should become a user-friendly site. In the longer version, many more details are explained in depth. We try to invite new users to feel comfortable with the new technologies and avoid alienating them.

There is a virtual office for messages through e-mail and at the end of almost every page there is also the e-mail address with an on-line connection, so we are continuously open to messages, which we always answer. In fact, we receive dozens of letters every day.

MUVA has a News section to keep the visitor informed about changes and has created a subscription form for a Newsletter (this is not ready yet). MUVA endeavors to have as many internal links as possible and it also offers off-site links.

 

ACCESSIBILITY FOR SPANISH SPEAKING AND NON-SPANISH SPEAKING VISITORS

The team decided to make the museum accessible to as vast an audience of viewers as possible. Therefore one month after the launching we duplicated the whole site in English. It is not an easy task for a virtual museum in a peripheral country to be visible. Internet is not exactly a cyber-democracy; English language sites are predominant, as is the presence of First World countries, particularly the United States. Therefore, we also have to cope with the hegemonic countries in the Web.

We have an average 40% of visitors from Uruguay and many visitors are Uruguayans living abroad. According to e-mails received, hundreds of very nostalgic Uruguayans living abroad are eager to see Uruguayan art and discover new artists. The rest are visitors from all over the world. The fact that the site is also in English enables access by a great number of visitors from the USA - the second country registered as our visitor - several countries in Europe, Japan, Asia, in a total of 25 countries per day and around 60 per moth. The countries vary according to the days8

 

FEEDBACK AND VISIBILITY

For a relatively new virtual museum in a small country in the Southern Hemisphere and considering it belongs to a very peripheral culture, MUVA has already achieved considerable visibility. One advantage, is that it is advertised in the first page of the digital edition of the newspaper and has a direct link from there so many readers of the digital edition discover MUVA in this way. Press coverage in Uruguay is very good; we have had many radio interviews, articles in magazines and newspapers, interviews on TV, so the local audience is well aware of the existence of the museum.

International attention is more difficult to attract but MUVA has had very important help: CNN International interviewed us and filmed the museum and released the interview many times in the Spanish and English editions of the program all over the world. Brazilian TV from Rio Grande do Sul filmed MUVA and interviewed us and they transmitted the program on Cable TV 8 times

Although we still have a long way to go and know that obtaining more visibility is not an easy task, we are quite pleased that MUVA has been selected, reviewed or given attention by important web-sites related to art and culture. In Uruguay, the major educational web-sites such as the University of the Republic, ANEP -CODICEN (Uruguayan National Council of Education) and the Association of High School Teachers Web-site include or recommend MUVA.

In Europe and the United States MUVA is also included and some times recommended or reviewed by educational and cultural Web-sites. Among others, mention can be made of ICOM, ALAA (Association of Latin American Art), LANIC of the University of Texas at Austin, World Wide Art Resource, University of Wisconsin, Voice of the Shuttle, (Web Page for Humanities Research Dept. of English, University of California), The Education Index, The Web of Culture, Kultur online Finesite Cyguide, Quondam (A Virtual Museum of Architecture), Art History Resources on the Web, Sweet Briar College, E.Rey L. Pratt Center for Latin American Studies at Brigham University, edu News Online, News Art Planet, The Internet Fine Art Directory, The Scout Report (surf smarter University of Wisconsin), The Getty Center, The History of Art Virtual Library (Birkbeck College, University of London), Universes in Universes, The University of Kansas Department of Special Education.

At the same time, MUVA has also received awards. Among the 27 awards received, I would like to mention the ones given by Gar, The Web of Culture, The Education Index: Top Site and the Critical Mass Award and The Fifth International Creativity Festival of Mexico (1st Prize, The Best of the Web).

 

NEXT STEPS

The team is discussing several issues, plans and projects to be implemented in the next few months:

  • The problem of the audience. Right from the beginning, we had an implicit notion of the audience. However, it is evident that it is very difficult to assess the type of audience we really have. We are still not knowledgeable enough about the exact profile of our visitors. It is difficult to ascertain to whom the display is addressed, but in this task, the e-mail has been of great assistance and we now know much more. We communicate with almost every visitor that writes to us and ask him or her some questions. We have had an encouraging audience response and have been quite successful. Through this procedure at least we now have a profile of the visitor who writes to us. According to the letters and correspondence maintained by e-mail I have discovered that most of those who write to us are educated, mature, generally graduated from college and visitors of other museums, both real and virtual. They are not experts on art but college educated people with an interest in humanities and culture. The correspondence will be continued and we will probably create another more formal method of assessing the audience profile.
  • Approach to new audiences. We want to create some form of more active participation and open up to the voice of the "Others" and not only to the curator or the artist, thus integrating the discourse of the non-specialist in the museum. At the same time, we would like to create new attractions to approach segments of people that have not yet experienced art.
  • Open doors to new creativity. In the near future, we wish to open up new spaces for digital art, video art and Internet art and new lines of creativity. We would like to have work commissioned specially for the new medium.
  • The challenges of a new curatorial task. There are specific curatorial training needs for virtual museums that have not yet been solved in Uruguay and we will have to face this issue. The curators of Internet and interactive multimedia need special skills. My own experience teaches me that there is a lot to learn, many issues that require deep thinking and discussion and I am facing a whole new realm that forces me to enrich my knowledge of Internet and face theoretical and practical issues. In the course of this new challenge of directing an on-line museum and while the museum is growing, I am becoming more informed about theoretical issues, that involve a discussion of the medium from experts like Baudrillard, Virilio, Howard Rheingold, among many others9. I am discovering aspects of a new world that I had not done research on and I still have a great task to accomplish in that area10. At the same time, I want to be able to share my experience and invite guest curators to become more familiar with the new media. This is one of the "cyber-challenges".
  • The browser. The webmaster opted for Netscape 3.0 for the whole project and achieved great results, but of course, it is somewhat of a limitation although, presently, the latest version of Explorer enables the visitor to see MUVA quite well. At all events, we will have to face this issue in the future because we should be equally accessible both to browsers or to any type of browser. We are conscious of this problem and are faced with the dilemma of updating the museum for last generation browsers due to their size, some occupy 10Megabytes and many users neither have them nor have the right kind of computers to use them. We want MUVA to be accessible but at the same time, we do not want it to become outdated. The webmaster is already studying the possibilities for next year, in view of the dramatic changes to take place in HTML and he is already developing a system that will make navigation compatible to several browsers.
  • Availability and visibility. MUVA is motivated to achieve more network visibility. However, it is difficult to get foreign navigators interested in a country they usually know very little about. We will continue to relate to art and educational centers related to art and to Latin American studies and will investigate new ways to make MUVA more accessible to a broad audience.
  • Some projects for the near future.
    • Virtual Sculpture garden
    • Multimedia Library with a data base of Uruguayan artists
    • Glossary of art history terms
    • Compared chronology of Uruguayan, Latin American and Western Art in the Twentieth Century,
    • General catalogue in different formats (HTML, PDF, WORD, QUARK) easy to download and print
    • A virtual cafeteria with a real time vision of some streets of Montevideo
    • Guest curators
    • VRML program for Uruguayan architecture
  • Long term plans
    • Exhibitions of Latin American Art,
    • Guest curators from Latin America
    • Collaborative exhibitions with other virtual museums
    • Conference room to view videos on Uruguayan art and interviews with Uruguayan artists
    • An integration to real Uruguayan museums and a more formal integration to high school and college education
    • Offer possibilities of internship to students
    • Introduction of new languages, probably Portuguese since there are almost 1 million Brazilians that use Internet, they have a very high cultural profile and state of the art computers

 

NOTES

1 See Javier de Haedo "Para tener en cuenta, Dos años y medio," Revista Tres, Montevideo, viernes 5 de setiembre de 1997, p 26.; Luis Eduardo González "La globalización y el acercamiento al resto del mundo cambian la mentalidad de los urugayos, pero crean frustraciones y a veces, violencia en los sectores postergados", Economía y Mercado, El Pais, Montevideo, lunes 4 de agosto de 1997, pp 4 -5, Montevideo. Uruguay: números, bienestar y debate, Revista Tres, Montevideo, jueves 17 de julio 1997, pp 16 - 19
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2 Eduardo de León, Indicadores y discurso oficial, , Montevideo, jueves 17 de julio 1997 p 18; Uruguay en números Revista Tres, Montevideo, jueves 17 de julio 1997 p 26.
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3 Information on line about Uruguay:

http://www.rau.edu.uy/uruguay/generalidades/Uy.estad.htm

http://www.rau.edu.uy/uruguay/

http://www.rau.edu.uy/uruguay/generalidades/Uy.general.htm

http://www.turismo.gub.uy/index-e.html

http://www.turismo.gub.uy/infog_e.html

http://uruguay.org.uy/index.html

http://www.rau.edu.uy/faro/urucat.htm

http://web2mil.intercanal.com/uruguay/

José Pedro Barrán, Uruguay siglo XX, http://www.rau.edu.uy/web/rau/uruguay/historia/Uy.hist4.htm

The World Bank Group, Uruguay . Country Overview,. Source: Trends in Developing Economies 1996.
http://www.worldbank.org/html/extdr/offrep/lac/uruguay.html
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4 El Pais. "Montevideo entre las tres ciudades con mejor calidad de vida en Latinoamérica", Montevideo miércoles 10 de diciembre, de 1997, primera plana.
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5 Shifra Goldman, Dimensions of the Americas, art and social change in Latin America and the United States, The University of Chicago Press, 1994, Chicago, chapters 21 to 26.
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6 Eduardo Scheck, The impossible museum, Message from the President in the section Info of MUVA http://www.diarioelpais.com/muva2
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7 Leonardo Setaro and Daniel Armand Ugon have previous experience that helps them solve this case entirely in Uruguay and without external help. Web2mil is an ISP Internet Service Provider http://web2mil.intercanal.com , one of the first in Uruguay and by far the most powerful. It has become since 1996 a leader in Internet technology in Uruguay. It has its own server, the only 10 MBPS server in Uruguay. With the wide band, two servers, one in California and one in New York, (the one for MUVA in New York,) it allows MUVA to have many visitors.

Setaro and Armand Ugon, had already sufficient experience. They have been in charge of the digital version of the newspaper El Pais, a leading site among the newspapers in the Spanish speaking world. They created a sophisticated site TV Network, the first TV Channel from Latin America to transmit all its programs on-line. They created Interfutbol the first radio transmission via Internet in the Spanish speaking world. They also created "Carlos Gardel Canta en Internet" first server of Internet in the Spanish speaking world in the area of real time videos on-line. They were chosen by NASA in the Mars Pathfinder Expedition. They were the only ones in Latin America to have the right to Mirror and transmit it from Latin America and were chosen together with an Australian company as the two servers to transmit it for the Southern Hemisphere in a contest open to 20 servers. They were chosen because their International Mirror Site has a load capacity of 2 millions hits per day..
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8 Example: Saturday February 7: 4521 accesses, 188.4 average accesses per hour, 14994 hits, maximum access per hour 403, Uruguay 42, 68 %. Uruguay is followed by US Commercial and Educational, then comes France, Italy, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Sweden, United Kingdom, Argentina, Portugal, Spain ,Australia, Costa Rica, Switzerland ,Dominican Republic ,Canada. In other days we frequently get visitors from New Zealand (Aotearoa) , Brazil , Netherlands, Finland, Colombia, Japan, United Kingdom among other countries.
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9 David Porter, editor, Internet Culture, Routledge, Cultural Studies /Communications,USA, 1997.
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10 Pierre Lévy, Essai sur la cyberculture: l'universel sans totalité, http://www.teluq.uquebec.ca/diverscite - DELUGE

Mark Poster, CyberDemocracy: Internet and the Public Sphere,http://www.humanities.uci.edu/mposter/writings/democ.html

Paul Virilio, "Un monde surexposé", Le Monde Diplomatique, août 1997, p 17.http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/md/en/

Jason Argoski, Virtual Museums: The Web Experience,http://www.vmirror.com/rov-int/museums.html

Jonathan Bowen, Museums and the Internet, http://www.comlab.ox.ac.uk/archive/other/museums/talk/

Jonathan Bowen, The Virtual Library Museums, http://www.cs.reading.ac.uk/museum/mw97/paper/node1.html - SECTION00010000000000000000

Larry Goldberg, Electronic Curbcuts, Equitable Access to the Future, http://www.ahip.getty.edu/cyberpub/goldberg.html

Jack Solock, The Internet: Window to the World or Hall of Mirrors?. Information Quality in the Networked Environment, http://rs.internic.net/nic-support/nicnews/nov96/enduser.html

Alastair Smith, Criteria for evaluation of Internet Information Resources,http://www.vuw.ac.nz/

Esther Grassian, Thinking Critically about Discipline-Based World Wide Web Resources http://www.library.ucla.edu/libraries/college/instruct/discp.htm

The Scout Report, Surf Smarter, Scout Report Selection Criteria, http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/index.html

http://humanitas.ucsb.edu/shuttle/cyber.html

Linda Carroli Writing Virtual Encounters Community or Collaboration on the Internet?

(an extract from a larger work) http://www.anat.org.au/

Using the Web for Research: Tutorial (Information Evaluation:

Checklist compiled by: J. Alexander & M. Tate: July 1996 Copyright Widener University 1996

Wolfgram Memorial Library, Widener University, Chester, PA).

http://bob.ucsc.edu/library/media/research.html

 
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