Vir­tual tours open mu­se­ums to help fight cabin fever

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Maria Puente USA TO­DAY

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.

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