Here’s how to enjoy world-class collections from home, says Sarah Marshall.
During times of difficulty, arts and culture can help us make sense of a confused reality, offering refreshing perspectives and sharing lessons from the past. There’s something reassuringly therapeutic about exploring a gallery, even if you’re clueless about the works on display; for a few hours, it’s possible to get lost in another world.
While physical visits are temporarily off-limits, there’s still a chance to peruse permanent collections and temporary exhibitions from the safety of your home. From top institutions to emerging collectives, curatorial teams have flexed their creative muscles to allow access online.
Click open virtual vaults to uncover dusty artefacts, or brush up on modern history through interactive displays. Best of all, there’s no entrance fee and you can wander freely without any crowds.
1. The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, New York, USA
Best for… mixing art with architecture
So many of the world’s greatest museums are housed within buildings as beautiful as the art they display. Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, New York’s premier arts institution, The Met, has published a series of 360- degree videos offering visitors unique views and access to areas they might otherwise miss (even if lockdown wasn’t in place).
Explore the neoclassical grandeur of The Great Hall, admire fragments of the Nubian Temple of Dendur set around a shimmering pool in The Sackler Wing, and discover The Met Cloisters, an enchanting branch of the museum located in northern Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River, with a focus on medieval European art.
Audio guides to current exhibitions are also available online. Discover the stories behind landmark works by Rembrandt and Vermeer as part of the In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces At The Met exhibition.
How: Visit metmuseum.org
2. British Museum, London, UK
Best for… unearthing great facts
Had you snuck into this grand dame museum at the beginning of lockdown, you’d probably still be making your way around displays. The sprawling mass of exotic finds and controversial treasures demands hours of attention; impossible to absorb in one visit, there’s always something new to find.
As part of their online The Museum Of The World project, navigate key pieces via a nifty interactive grid, divided by geographical continent and historic period and connected by surprising, hidden links.
Spiral back to 2000 BC to find how the Babylonians in Iran analysed sheep liver in the same way a fortune teller reads tea leaves, and discover the African origins of Kozo, the double-headed dog.
How: Visit britishmuseum.withgoogle.com
3. Canadian Museum For Human Rights, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Best for… opening your mind
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons we can draw from this global pandemic is the value of kindness and respect shared between strangers. The need for greater equality is a battle that’s been fought throughout history with varying degrees of success; looking back at achievements and failures could help us understand where we need to go next.
The world’s only museum dedicated to global human rights features stories, exhibits and tools to inspire and educate future activists. Download their app to tour two current exhibitions: Proclamation 1982 explains the background to a groundbreaking document which would grant every person in Canada stronger human rights, and Ododo Wa: Stories of Girls In War traces the harrowing ordeal of two young Ugandan girls kidnapped by rebel group, The Lord’s Resistance Army.
How: Visit humanrights.ca. App available at the AppStore or GooglePlay.
4. Museum Of Broken Relationships, LA, USA, and Zagreb, Croatia
Best for… life lessons
Proof not all museums and galleries revolve around lofty, academic discourse and jaw-droppingly expensive exhibits, this ever-evolving, crowd-sourced collection features everyday items donated by members of the public. People are invited to offload trinkets, talismans and any symbolic items relating to failed relationships as a cathartic means to dust off the past and move on.
Although it has permanent galleries in LA and Zagreb, from the outset, the museum was built with a virtual space in mind; users can time-lock painful memories in a vault or share their own bust-up stories and images online. Many items from the collection are also virtually view-able – from entwined claddagh rings deposited by a distraught, jilted girlfriend, to a stolen scrap of belly button fluff shared to defiantly stick two fingers up at an ex.
How: Visit brokenships.com/explore
5. Natural History Museum, London, UK
Best for… nerding out on nature
Right now, it feels like humanity is at the centre of the universe; in reality, we’re dwarfed by the magnificence of our natural world. Nowhere is that story better told than the Natural History Museum, where inhabitants of land, sea, air – and even space – have starring roles.
Spanning 25.2 metres, the skeleton of Hope the blue whale wows visitors when they enter the grand Hintze Hall. While it’s impossible to appreciate the marine mammal’s scale from a computer screen, an interactive online display shares several fascinating facts about the creature.
Venturing further into the museum, there’s a chance to zoom in on cabinets of beetles and flick through images on display in the popular Wildlife Photographer Of The Year exhibition. Other areas can be explored through audio guides narrated by David Attenborough, whose authoritative, familiar tones provide soothing relief to these troubled days.
How: Visit nhm.ac.uk/visit/virtual-museum.html