Digital reviews | Vermeer, Serpentine's Reworlding podcast, National Gallery's new virtual exhibition - Museums Association

Digital reviews | Vermeer, Serpentine’s Reworlding podcast, National Gallery’s new virtual exhibition

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Art Digital Podcasts
Stephen Fry narrates the soothing digital version of the Vermeer exhibition
Vermeer, Rijksmuseum

With more than 100,000 tickets sold before the Rijksmuseum’s exhibition, Vermeer (on until 4 June), even opened, it might now be impossible to see the largest ever gathering of Vermeer paintings.

 With no plans for a trip to the Netherlands, I was keen to see the Rijksmuseum’s latest digital offering. This museum’s online work draws me back again and again – it does the cleverest of things by enabling you to feel like you’ve just wandered through its galleries, gleaning gorgeous little “wow, I did not know that” nuggets, without having to work to find them.

For English rather than Dutch speakers, you get a Stephen Fry-narrated commentary about all 28 of Vermeer’s paintings in the exhibition. The museum has called it an interactive digital tour, but the interaction feels limited to me – but in a great way. You can just sit and listen to Fry as he seemingly ambles from one painting to the next.

The fancy bits of the experience are gloriously low-key, just quietly letting you zoom in on particles of pigment in ultra-sharp detail as if we’ve been doing stuff like that all our lives.

Occasionally, you can click on an object in a painting that is part of a set of recurring motives, like pearls, yellow jackets, curtains and maps.


It’s a bit like experiencing those glorious moments in a museum when you and your feet are a bit tired and you spy a dark room in the corner. You find a seat, sit back and watch a wonderfully narrated video that tells you all you need to know about the exhibition you’ve just wandered around. Perfect.

Reworlding, Serpentine
A thought-provoking visual that goes alongside the Reworlding podcast

Like most people, I am stuck in a loop of busyness. Between all the working and general duties of adulting – the need to eat well, to keep fit, to raise excellent children and to ensure ageing relatives have what they need, it’s a wonder I have time to look at funny Instagrams of golden retrievers each evening. 

This general busyness can be overwhelming for many of us, but I also think it is only part of the story of our golden retriever-based scrolling. Many of us use our scrolling as a distraction from the broader feeling that we are in a pretty nightmarish world right now – and sadly there aren’t nearly enough funny dog videos on the internet to distract us from that.

If this chimes with you, then I recommend spending an hour lying in the most comfortable place in your home, perhaps with a cup of something herbal and a cosy blanket, and swapping the silly dog videos for the new podcast series from Serpentine. 


The London gallery’s Reworlding podcast is a series of five, hour-long, deep-dive programmes that have pulled me out of my often-present feelings of being overwhelmed. These beautifully produced recordings have helped me to create some much-needed space in my world, enabling me to switch off from the quick-fire, brain-bombarding internet and settle into a much gentler, more considered, and inspirational way to respond (through art) to the world in which we live.

The Reworlding series brings together the voices of leading thinkers, writers, artists and designers and invites listeners to imagine the world we need and considers the simple practices – things like remembering, playing or reconnecting, that can help us to nurture a new way to exist.

It’s the most hopeful thing I’ve heard on the internet in a very long time.

Fruits of the Spirit, National Gallery
Ron Stenberg’s Two Auld Wifies, Dundee, 1982, makes an appearance in the exhibition’s Generosity section

I’ve always found virtual exhibitions less satisfying than the real thing, and I’ve always thought it might be better to do something a bit different online than a representation of wandering around a museum or gallery.


I did, however, feel quite the opposite about a new virtual exhibition called Fruits of the Spirit, launched recently by London’s National Gallery and a group of nine of its partner museums from across the UK. It is a masterclass in how to present a virtual exhibition. Inspired by Saint Paul’s discussions of nine positive attributes – such as love, joy, peace, patience and kindness – in his letter to the Galatians, it explores how to build and maintain communities in the face of disagreement. This couldn’t be more pertinent 2,000 years after the letter was written.

Nine paintings from the National Gallery are paired with those from other UK museum collections in an online gallery that is a joy to wander around. I realise that if you strip back all the extras that tend to be shoehorned into a virtual experience, you get something akin to the real thing, but without the crowds. There are no pop-up extras here – simply the paintings and the exhibition text, and I find I don’t want to leave this beautiful, virtual world.

Rachel Ellis is co-director of Thirty8 digital consultancy

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