Virtual tours open museums to help fight cabin fever
Even in the absence of a crisis, museums are refuges of calm and contemplation; in these anxious times, they are more needed than ever. ❚ But most museums and art galleries are now closed because of the coronavirus, and we’re all stuck at home for a while, so what to do? The answer: virtual tours. ❚ As it happens, Google Arts and Culture partnered with more than 2,500 museums and galleries around the world to offer virtual tours of their collections and spaces, way before the coronavirus pandemic.
You could spend hours here traveling the world – or even just museum-clogged New York City.
Purists will say nothing substitutes for actually seeing a work of art or an artifact in person – especially not peering at it in pixels on a small screen. And the purists are right.
But these are not pure times, and even without a pandemic, plenty of people are unable to travel to see the world’s treasures in person.
So a virtual tour, especially when it’s offered through in-room settings, is better than no tour at all.
You’d rather be shopping? Keep in
mind, almost every museum now offers delectable gifts and art through online shopping.
Here are some to try in the United States:
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The nation’s premier people-owned art museum lists over 42,000 artworks online, and two special “exhibits”: “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting,” from the gallery’s 2018 ex
hibit, focuses on the always-popular 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. The other is a different sort of treat: “Fashioning a Nation” is a brief survey of American fashions from 1740 to 1895, taken from a visual archive of more than 18,000 watercolor renderings of American decorative art objects produced in the early 20th century. Disappointed you won’t be able to see the wacky fashions ladies wear today because the Met Gala in May has been canceled? Never mind, take an up-close look at the elegant, elaborate dresses ladies wore in the 18th and 19th centuries: Works of art, indeed.
Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
At least 12 of the Smithsonian Institution’s 20 museums offer virtual tours, including the National Zoo (where the panda cams are still going but the pandas are not always visible). The National Portrait Gallery has been especially crowded in recent years thanks to the wildly popular portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama. The gallery is closed along with the rest of the Smithsonian’s treasure houses, and the Obama portraits are scheduled to go on tour next year. Until it reopens, you can make do by checking them out in two of the seven online exhibits, “First Ladies” and “Portraits of African Americans.”
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Compared with the behemoth Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA has relatively few artworks available to peruse online – 129 versus the Met’s nearly 201,000 – and only one online exhibit versus the Met’s 26 “stories.” But that exhibit might be revealing because it’s about a woman artist you might not know as much about: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, a Swiss-born artist who became a central figure in important modern and avant-garde art movements of the first half of the 20th century. Women artists have been overlooked by male-dominated museums and galleries, so hooray for any exhibit that focuses more attention on the deserving.
American Museum of Natural History, New York
Science and natural history museums offer their own sources of serenity and fun, especially for dinosaur-obsessed kids stuck at home. America has many such museums, but one of the best known is across Central Park from the Met. It’s already gone Hollywood: The museum in “Night at the Museum” was based on AMNH. There are three online exhibits, including one that looks at the museum’s famous habitat dioramas, “Windows on Nature,” and another, “Highlights from the American Museum of Natural History,” that features all the greatest hits, including the Titanosaur, the 563-carat sapphire Star of India, an African elephant and a stupendous blue whale. If your kids want more, they can explore by topics, such as Mammal, Dinosaur and Insect, oh my.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
An embarrassment of riches, but what else would you expect from America’s largest and richest private museum in America’s largest and richest city? There are 26 online exhibits. One way to explore this vast collection online is to click on the button to tour the museum by room and object, which gives you an idea of how artworks are presented and a way to manipulate pictures to get different views.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Another comprehensive museum with a huge collection and 16 online exhibits, including “Fashion Photography at the MFA” and a fascinating look at conservation, “Preserving Fans at the MFA Boston.” Why fans? New England used to be the center of the U.S. textile industry, so the museum’s fan collection now totals about 600 and ranges from the 2nd millennium B.C. to the early 20th century.
Detroit Institute of Arts
This is another comprehensive museum, but it is best known for its relationship with the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, who now ranks as high as he as an artist and is just as collectible. This museum’s online exhibits include one on Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” murals at the museum, and two on Kahlo, including “Frida Kahlo in Detroit” and “Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, 1932.”
The Art Institute of Chicago
You can explore this collection online by topic, say, Modern Art or Impressionism. Or look for favorite artworks up close in a room, such as Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” and Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” Or examine a painting in more depth, such as Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street: Rainy Day.”
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
One of Los Angeles’ premier museums offers online ways to explore the 15,000-item collection by room settings, as well as two online exhibits from the museum’s renowned manuscripts collection. But maybe skip one of them, “Heaven, Hell and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages,” and go directly to a more cheerful tour: “Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Food in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” Now that so many bars and restaurants have closed or are take-out only, you can get an idea how people ate and drank – banquets and beer – hundreds of years ago in Europe.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
The High is famous for its photography collection and within that, its important collections of photographs of the Civil Rights Movement. “Civil Rights Photography,” one of four online exhibits showing now, is a small selection of more than 300 photographs documenting the social protest movement from Rosa Parks’s arrest to the Freedom Rides to the tumultuous demonstrations of the late 1960s.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City’s physical space is closed, but it offers a wide variety of virtual tours.
Former President Barack Obama stands with his and former first lady Michelle Obama’s portraits in February 2018 at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Renaissance paintings gallery in the North Pavilion of the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 1997.