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Virtual art museums: 4 American museums making the switch

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pictured, is one of the museums using online features to attract virtual museum visitors. – Photo by Courtesy of Rhea Swain

As an art history major, the places where I feel most at peace are art museums. What I find most fascinating when I visit a museum are the visitors. Museum goers are all united by the common goal of learning. Everyone stares at the work on the walls and is in their own little mental bubbles, learning something new.

Right now, most of the world is practicing social distancing. This means we are disconnected from what makes us most human, human interaction itself. Fortunately for art lovers, museums across America and the world have innovated means for audiences to immerse themselves in different cultural experiences.

As we try to live through the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, an uncertain moment in contemporary history, we can engage with the broader history of the world by visiting museums and other cultural institutions virtually. The social media #MuseumFromHome is particularly helpful when it comes to seeking out a museum adventure online. While these online escapes may not encapsulate the entirety of the magic museums create, they come pretty close to the real thing. 

Here's a list of a few American art museums online: 

Zimmerli Art Museum

I have had class here every Wednesday morning this academic year, so naturally, I miss the people and paintings at Rutgers’ very own Zimmerli Art Museum. You can find certain pieces from the museum's collections on Google Arts and Culture, including a 19th century lithograph by French realist Édouard Manet and etchings of Venetian canals by American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. 

For some stress-relieving art therapy, awaken your inner child and download the coloring pages featuring its best works from the museum’s website. Another way to view the art in the museum's extensive and ever-growing collection would be through exploring its collections digitally. Apart from the brilliant, more well-known paintings hanging in the European and American galleries, I would recommend checking out the under rated, interesting Works on Paper collection or the renowned Russian and Soviet Nonconformist Art Collections.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The iconic museum has a “Guggenheim From Home” webpage that compiles a variety of resources for audiences: do a virtual tour of the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, listen to a podcast on SoundCloud about the UNESCO Heritage site’s glorious spiraled architecture or watch video playlists of its “Live from the Guggenheim” and contemporary “Artist Profiles” on YouTube.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

The cultural behemoth that is The Met in New York City has been closed to the public since March 13, but that doesn’t mean you can’t marvel at the infinite knowledge it has to offer from the comfort of your home. The Met’s website is easy to navigate and use, and the museum provides the public with a plethora of interesting online features

Experience the tranquility of the Temple of Dendur with The Met 360° Project or delve into The Artist Project to hear the art historical perspectives of contemporary artists like Jeff Koons, Kerry James Marshall and Nan Goldin. You can scroll through brief online exhibits through the museum’s Google Arts and Culture platform, such as a slide show of Italian fashion icon Elsa Schiaparelli’s dinner suit jackets or Dutch master Johannes Vermeer’s Golden Age paintings. The museum’s Instagram page is also very active and allows you to enjoy the #MetAnywhere.

Barnes Foundation

Right by the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia is a lesser known gem in the city, Barnes Foundation. This educational institution possesses one of the world’s most breathtaking and expansive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art. I had the opportunity to visit the museum on a field trip in the Fall 2019 semester and was completely overwhelmed and awestruck by the numerous artworks of Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne which hung Salon-style on the walls. The Barnes’ collection is perfectly captured by and displayed on its website. 

You can seamlessly gaze at art on this website by filtering works by color, line, light and space. Depending on what work catches your eye, you can find other art similar or dissimilar to that work and even view it in its “Ensemble,” the format of interconnected visual relationships that founder Alfred Barnes used in his original art collection.

Apart from the American museums in this listicle, I would recommend exploring other art museums’ websites too, such as that of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art. Starting April 9, The Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan will launch Virtual Views of its latest exhibitions, including the opening of the highly anticipated “Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde — From Signac to Matisse and Beyond” and an exploration of modern American photography “Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures.”

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