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Visiting Museums Virtually

Visiting Museums Virtually

The World’s Finest Museums And Cultural Institutions Are Accessible From Your Couch

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s great museums and cultural institutions had already utilized technology in varying degrees to make their collections and experiences more accessible to all. But in light of the unprecedented raft of temporary closures, museums have looked to leverage new platforms and applications in order to share their collections with millions.

Though the shift to digital was brought on by the pandemic, it’s here to stay. Many institutions have taken the opportunity to offer new resources geared toward teachers and parents. Now a whole new audience can better enjoy and understand priceless collections across the globe. In response to stay-at-home measures, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) rebranded its website to LACMA @ Home, enabling the public to watch exhibition walkthroughs, read artist interviews and exhibition catalogs, and learn via online courses, lectures, and teaching resources. Unique offerings include LACMA Productions, a series of contemporary artist profile videos made by emerging filmmakers, and curated playlists of global music inspired by recent shows such as “Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific.”

The Abu Dhabi museum’s online offerings via an app
The Abu Dhabi museum’s online offerings via an app.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., now offers at-home resources including audio and video interviews between its curators and artists such as Alex Katz and Julie Mehretu. Users can listen to lectures, downloadable as podcasts, on any number of topics, from the moon in the age of photography to art history. Educational resources run all the way from prekindergarten to university level and include the NGAkids Art Zone app, which offers myriad interactive activities inspired by works in the museum’s collection. There’s also a sketchbook that lets children make digital artworks based on those in the museum.

Miami’s Bass Museum of Art is one of America’s most tech-savvy institutions, as evidenced by The Bass Squared, a satellite gallery exclusive to Instagram that exhibits art native to the digital realm. During the pandemic, the museum used its regular Instagram page to offer a daily hashtagged art activity known as #CafecitoBreak, an art-based activity from its archive starting at 3:05 p.m. Eastern time. (The city’s area code is 305.) For those who own a virtual reality headset, The Bass offers a VR-compatible exhibit inspired by Ugo Rondinone’s 2018 show “good evening beautiful blue.”

An empty exhibition hall at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
An empty exhibition hall at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C

The Art Institute of Chicago had to close its doors only a few short weeks after it launched “El Greco: Ambition and Defiance.” The museum quickly pivoted to move the hotly anticipated exhibit online, allowing the public to take a curator-narrated video tour or explore an interactive feature charting the history of the artist’s 1577 masterpiece The Assumption of the Virgin. Junior curators can use an online “journeymaker” tool to build a personalized museum booklet around themes like superheroes and sleepovers.

Those who have yet to visit Louvre Abu Dhabi can simply head to its website to enjoy a deep dive into the museum’s highlights via audio and video guides. Newly added features include a 360-degree virtual tour of the museum’s latest international exhibition, “Furusiyya: The Art of Chivalry Between East and West,” as well as digital learning resources for teachers and a series of online videos and artistic activities for families and children. The museum’s mobile app contains more than 150 audio clips (available in Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian, German, and Hindi), including curator-led tours.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, which has gotten into the virtual game
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, which has gotten into the virtual game.

Museums around the world have followed the standard set by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which launched “Rijksmuseum From Home,” a multimedia initiative offering various ways to engage with the collection. Highlights include a series of short videos in which curators discuss their favorite works and “Masterpieces Up Close,” an online platform that lets users tour the museum’s famous Gallery of Honour, home to some of history’s most celebrated paintings, including Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid.

The Frick, Henry Clay Frick’s mansion-turned-museum on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, had been due to close temporarily in 2020 for a massive renovation. Ahead of the museum’s closure, it unveiled an intuitive virtual tour of the building, which walks visitors through the evolution of its architecture, with accompanying audio guides available on the museum’s SoundCloud page. In addition to the grand interior spaces, viewers can peruse the museum’s priceless collection of Old Masters, sculpture, porcelain, and furniture.

To make up for not being able to visit its exhibitions in person, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam launched “Rijksmuseum From Home.”
To make up for not being able to visit its exhibitions in person, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam launched “Rijksmuseum From Home.”

Melbourne, Australia’s popular National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) offers activities and learning resources for the whole family, from a variety of 360-degree virtual self-guided exhibition tours (including “Keith Haring/Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines”) to curator-led videos of collection highlights. The NGV Kids at Home site provides worksheets, art games, and DIY craft activities for little ones.

Despite limited resources, smaller regional museums are also getting in on the act. In New Orleans, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art utilizes Zoom and Facebook to host interactive programming such as art-inspired meditation, family workshops, teen art classes, and musical performances. St. Louis’ City Museum launched City Museum on Air, in which staff, crew, artists, and historians take to Facebook Live every weekday to share stories, teach free art classes, and offer sneak peeks at upcoming exhibits.

While it might not match the thrill one gets from walking the hallowed halls of the world’s finest museums, there’s an unprecedented amount of content waiting to be explored.

Artist Julie Mehretu, whose work is on display through the National Gallery
Artist Julie Mehretu, whose work is on display through the National Gallery.

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