Fine Art

Explore the World’s Best Art Museums Online

Right now, most of the country is under a stay-at-home order. That may be why 34 million people have already watched the Netflix original series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. This “stranger-than-fiction” pseudo-documentary follows the trials and tribulations of one Joe Exotic, a gun-toting, bleach-blond-mulleted, gay polygamist, country music-singing, ex-presidential candidate and zookeeper, who may or may not have hired a hitman to kill a rival zookeeper and social media personality, who may or may not have killed her husband and fed him to the tigers. 


I think we could all use a little culture and fine art right about now.

Fortunately for those of us sheltering in place, hundreds of museums and historic sites have launched online tours and virtual activities which can be explored from the comfort — and safety — of home. Here are eight of the finest from around the globe.

The Louvre

Le Musée du Louvre in the center of Paris is the world’s largest museum. In fact, if you spent just 60 seconds with each masterpiece on display, it would take you 75 eight-hour days to see all of it. Happily, the museum has streamlined its virtual tours so you don’t have to set aside quite that much time. Choose from Egyptian Antiquities, the recently restored Galerie d’Apollon, current exhibition “The Advent of the Artist,” or the Remains of the Louvre’s Moat. You’ll also find a fascinating five-minute video about how the museum created its virtual reality (VR) experience “Mona Lisa Beyond the Glass.”  DaVinci’s La Jaconde is the museum’s most famous work, but most visitors get only a quick glimpse because of the crowds she attracts. The VR experience, which you can download onto your smart phone, allows you to “open your eyes and mind” to the painting, the painter, and the mysterious subject herself. The project’s 3-D programmers admit that they had to try 1,000 different expressions before they captured Mona’s enigmatic smile.


The Vatican Museums

For centuries, the Roman Pontiffs have collected and preserved priceless and extraordinarily important works of art. According to the Church’s current Papa Francesco, the mission of “the Pope’s museums,” is to spread the good news of God through painting, sculpture, and architecture. For this reason, the Vatican Museums are usually free of charge and open to all. Although the museums are closed now to comply with Italian authorities, you can still visit via seven virtual tours. Each 360-degree experience allows you to move in any direction and zoom in or out to examine details of the artworks and their surroundings in high definition. Tours include: the Sistine Chapel, with its magnificent ceiling; the Pio Clementino Museum; the Chiaramonti Museum; the New Wing; Raphael’s Rooms; the Niccoline Chapel; and the Room of the Chiaroscuri. Pilgrims (or necromancers) can also visit the tomb of St. Peter and explore the necropolis underneath the Basilica.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met’s 360° Project comprises six award-winning interactive videos. Each is designed to enable visitors to experience the grande dame of New York’s “museum mile” in a fresh, immersive way. Using a digital compass at the top left of the video screen (or simply moving your mouse), you can turn to the left or right, look up or down in each featured location. From architect Morris Hunt’s splendid Great Hall and the Temple of Dendur, to the Arms and Armor Galleries and Charles Engelhard Court, you can enjoy the Met’s most popular highlights without the usual crowds of tourists. There are also 360° video tours of the medieval Cloisters, including stunning views of the Hudson River and upper Manhattan, and the Met Breuer, the home of the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection. If you’re interested in digging a little deeper, you can browse “5,000 years of art, onlineor watch one of the “From the Vaults” videos, short films from the museum’s extensive moving-image archives.


Guggenheim Bilbao

Located in Spain’s Basque country, the Guggenheim Bilbao is as famous for its “audacious” Frank Gehry-designed building as it is for its stunning collection of modern and contemporary art. The museum’s website features information about featured artists, including Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, Jenny Holzer, and Louise Bourgeois, and write-ups on recent, current, and upcoming exhibitions. You can also enjoy the slideshow and accompanying narrative of “Masterpieces of the Museum,” created in concert with the Google Arts & Culture project. Take a virtual tour through the museum or enjoy a panoramic view from one of the building’s rooftop terraces. 



Although temporarily closed, Amsterdam’s Museum of the Netherlands promotes itself as “always open online.” You can visit through a 360° video tour of the Gallery of Honour, which houses the museum’s collection of seventeenth century Dutch paintings. Stop at a featured masterpiece — like The Milkmaid or Woman Reading a Letter, both by Johannes Vermeer — and listen to an expert guide while you explore various aspects of the work, such as its history, composition, subject matter, or “secrets.” Rembrandt’s Night Watch, one of the most famous and important pieces in the Rijksmuseum collection, is currently undergoing conservation. You can learn more about the process, follow its progress, or donate to Operation Night Watch online.


The National Gallery

You can browse more than 2,600 works in London’s National Gallery, organizing them by artist or location. If you prefer a more streamlined, “greatest hits” experience, select “30 must-see paintings,” which showcases works by Titian, Cézanne, Vermeer, Monet, Seurat, van Dyke, Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael, Boticelli, van Gogh, daVinci, and Michelangelo. If you took Art History in high school or college, you may experience a flashback or two. There are also options for virtual tours, including an in-depth look at the Sainsbury Room, which houses the National Gallery’s collection of early Renaissance works, and a longer tour that walks you through 18 separate rooms and more than 300 works of art. 


Museu de Arte São Paulo

The first modern museum in Brazil, Museu de Arte São Paulo was founded in 1947 and prides itself on having the most important collection of European art in the Southern hemisphere. In addition, the museum’s more than 10,000 pieces include sculpture, photography, objets, and paintings from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Housed in a contemporary glass and concrete building by architect Lina Bo Bardi, works are suspended in glass display easels, staggered through an enormous, light-filled gallery space. This invites visitors to navigate the artwork in their own individual ways, rather than take a linear path as they would in a traditional museum. Online, you can explore the gallery as you might in real life. Travel row by row through the masterpieces by Raphael, Ingres, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, and Picasso. Or take in the entire gallery space and home in on works that speak to you.


National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, South Korea 

South Korea’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art focuses on global contemporary art, as well as modern art from Korea. Through Google’s Arts & Culture project, you can visit four unique online exhibitions, and browse the impressive collection by genre, artist, and even by color. Explore a half dozen different paths through and outside the museum locations in Gwacheon, Deoksugung, Seoul, and Cheongju as you view works by contemporary Korean artists Go Hui-dong, Ku Bon-ung, Park Su-geun, and Kim Whan-ki, and artists from outside Korea like Andy Warhol, Georg Baselitz, and Jonathan Borofsky.

It may be weeks or even months before we can visit art museums again. Until then, exploring these magnificent collections online is the next best thing. (After all, Rembrandt is a far cry from Tiger King.)


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