Virtual Exhibit: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, 1909-1929

The ‘La Caixa’ Foundation has created an online exhibition exploring how dance, music, design, scenery and literature converged in the work of the Ballets Russes, the avant-garde ballet company created in 1909 by Serge Diaghilev. Movement controls include mouse gestures for veering left, right, and up and down; mouse-scrolling to zoom in (it took me awhile to realize how to get close enough to read wall text); and landing on the yellow floor arrows to navigate between galleries. It takes a bit of practice to master. You can use fullscreen mode to fill your entire monitor with the glorious museum, rooms empty save your floating avatar. Items on display may have information labels that, when clicked, take you to a static photo of the object in the virtual case.

based on a design of Golovin, 1908

Unfortunately for fellow English speakers, I could not find a way to switch the language from Spanish, but this can be accommodated with a second internet window reserved for translations (wall text is helpfully in multiple languages). I had the feeling that a “visitor” should be able to “walk” a little more freely, stooping over cases with horizontal, encased documents that beckoned, but I could not figure out how to accomplish this maneuver.


I had a fun romp through this graphic 3D space, in spite of some navigation frustration. As an abstract project of virtual space creation, this is a treat: tangible, believable rooms have been created with panoramic views of gorgeous displayed objects. But you’ll probably have to piece your own thesis together, based on the objects — which are numerous and in many mediums including mounted costumes, prints, paintings, books, costume sketches.


In spite of its shortcomings, I do think this is the future of museum exhibitions: an in-person, bodily experience will always be preferable (presumably you already know how to navigate a gallery with your own body so the learning curve will only involve displayed items), but online exhibitions like this are only going to become more sophisticated, and they have the benefit of reaching millions of people worldwide. For the moment though, I prefer online exhibitions that perhaps don’t look as slick as Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, but which deliver intellectual content, such as the Museum of the City of New York’s Worth & Mainbocher online exhibit, which is less intricate in layout, but sleek and intuitive. Certainly, there’s a place for both models.

Worth & Mainbocher online exhibit

Feel free to list other online exhibits, ideally with your input on their respective pros and cons, in the Comments.

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1 Comment

  • Brenna November 27, 2012 08.20 pm

    This is intriguing and encouraging — since it is physically impossible to get to all the exhibits I would ideally like to see. I agree, though, that I would prefer more intellectual content than a “virtual reality” experience, and it would seem that an online exhibit would be the perfect platform to enable “visitors” to tailor their experience to include as much information or visual content they would want.


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