As summarised in my last blog post, my proposed publication is a combination of a virtual exhibition and an accompanying printed ‘exhibition catalogue’. This post covers my research into some of the currently available virtual exhibition platforms.

To be clear, I use the term ‘virtual exhibition’ to specifically mean an interactive, user-navigable online space that emulates the three-dimensional experience of visiting a physical exhibition. I do not mean a simple website photo gallery or slideshow feature.

I have researched three platforms: ArtstepsExhibbit and Art.Spaces by Kunstmatrix.

I judged each option on the following criteria:

  • Visual appeal
  • Customisation features
  • Ease of navigation (viewer)
  • Ease of configuration (artist)
  • Integration with own website
  • Cost

Artsteps

  • Generally visually appealing (although some people’s customisations in the showcase galleries are a little garish, so a certain amount of design discernment might be required to get the best out of it)
  • High level of customisation (too high – you pretty much have to do it all yourself)
  • Easy and intuitive to navigate with mouse on laptop and via touchscreen on tablet and phone
  • Confusing interface for designing the space and placing the artworks
  • Can be embedded into another website
  • Seems to be free to use to a certain degree but there is a mention of a premium version for a one-off €20 charge (not very clear to be honest)

As a viewer of other people’s galleries, Artsteps is pretty good! Where it falls down is the gallery creation process. I consider myself quite tech-savvy and I still found it really bewildering. For a start, there is currently only one room template (‘more coming soon’ apparently) and the main way of designing your gallery space is to do so from scratch, on a blank slate. I have neither the time nor the interior design skills to create something from scratch. I tried for a while then gave up, frustrated. Other reviews I’ve seen of Artsteps make the same criticism, that you need to invest lots of time to set up your bespoke gallery design.

It’s a shame it’s so difficult to use as I do like some of the features it has, such as showing the exterior space around the gallery. But who knows how long this takes to create…?!

  • Pro: very customisable; low cost
  • Con: too customisable / time-consuming; limited design template
  • Verdict: no

Exhibbit

  • Clean and minimalist, though very limited design options
  • Difficult to see customisation features as no trial mode without requesting a trial from the company
  • A little slow to load and navigate
  • Didn’t get a trial mode so setup experience untested
  • Can be embedded into another website
  • Starts at $15/month for 18 images, next tier is $25/month for 30 images

While I liked the overall look of Exhibbit at first sight – little things like the ghostly visitor figures appealed to me – when you dig deeper its limitations become more apparent. The main problem is that each of its four payment tiers has a single available layout. I would most likely need either ‘Solo’ or ‘Marble’, and neither are very large, meaning the images themselves would need to be quite compact. I thought one of the advantages of the virtual realm was that one could be unconstrained, size-wise!

The collection size limitations are somewhat constraining. The blurb at the top of their gallery choice page misleadingly says ‘create unlimited exhibitions’ then proceeds to detail precisely how many artworks you can have in each package.

All of the virtual rooms are stereotypical contemporary gallery spaces, all white walls and wood floors. Compared to the other platforms it appears to be almost uncustomisable, which is a shame.

  • Pro: simple options, clean look
  • Con: no easily accessible trial mode; limited customisation features; only 18 artworks and a small room in entry level package
  • Verdict: no

Art.Spaces by Kunstmatrix

  • Clean and minimalist
  • A reasonable number of room size/layout options, plus limited colour customisation
  • Pretty quick to load and straightforward to navigate
  • Test mode allows 10 artworks but no publishing; played with it a while and it’s much easier than Artsteps
  • Can be embedded into another website
  • Starts at €10/month for up to 50 images

This was my initial introduction to the world of virtual exhibitions as my study buddy Hazel used this platform to great effect when her real-world exhibition got cancelled due to the pandemic lockdown. I followed her virtual exhibition progress with a keen interest as I expected I might be doing the same kind of thing myself at some point. However, I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that Art.Spaces was the right platform for me and my work, without testing it out alongside a couple of other options.

I think that compared to the other two, it has the right balance of room templates and customisation. It certainly had the easiest curation / exhibition production interface of the three. It lacks certain features of Artsteps (e.g. ability to place text directly on a wall) but the key things can be replicated with workarounds.

  • Pro: simple to both create and navigate; entry level package is a reasonable price for more than enough artworks for my needs
  • Con: less customisable than Artsteps
  • Verdict: yes, for my requirements this seems like it’s the best of the options on test

Next steps

I’ve set up a test account with Art.Spaces to start playing with it, so the next step is to create a dummy exhibition within the limits of the trial package (10 artworks, private preview only, no external publishing), to confirm that it can do what I need it to.

If that works OK, the subsequent step would be to upgrade to a paid account and upload the final artworks.