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The novel coronavirus has disrupted public life.
Experts have called for “social distancing” — the broad, conscious effort to avoid close contact with other people or public places — amid the global novel coronavirus pandemic to limit the transmission of the virus. As communities scale back the size of their gatherings, or stop meeting all together, many museums are temporarily shut down as a precautionary measure. But that doesn’t mean their collections and other online art exhibits can’t be viewed from home.
You can rotate a 3D model of the skeleton of a woolly mammoth, or enjoy the ennui on display in Mary Cassatt’s 1878 masterpiece “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair.”(The little girl’s face! The resting Brussels Griffon! The turquoise!)
Below are some exhibits and artwork collections you can view online, whether you’re socially distancing at home, need a distraction, or just simply want to get lost in some art.
Nearly all of the 20 museums and galleries of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and New York are temporarily closed, but there are many different types of collections to sift through online.
H. Lyman Saÿen’s “Daughter in a Rocker”(1917-1918). Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum/H. Lyman Sayen
Here are some quick, noteworthy finds: There are online exhibits about jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, how art played a role in making everyday objects aesthetically pleasing (like this sleek 1940s electric toaster), and portraits that demonstrate how Americans have defined who’s embodied “cool” over the years.
Did you find something interesting in any of these collections? Share what you found in the Canvas Facebook group here.
Owney the dog, who was the unofficial mascot of the Railway Post Office in the late 1800s. The tags and medals on his collar marked his travels. After he died in 1897, mail clerks raised money to preserve Owney. He was currently on display at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of National Postal Museum
The Smithsonian Institute also recently made more than 2.8 million images public on an open-access platform online. These images are free to download. There’s a centuries-old oil painting of Pocahontas. A Winslow Homer painting of waves slapping the side of a Maine cliff. And this creepy, patent model of a “creeping baby doll,” if that’s your thing.
READ MORE: I toured this exhibit on epidemics before the coronavirus pandemic shut it down
The Google Arts & Culture team has worked with hundreds of museums and galleries across the world to digitize some of their art collections — from Istanbul to New Delhi to Bogotá to Indianapolis, Indiana. More well-known museums, like the Guggenheim in New York and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, also make appearances.
For a comprehensive map of all the collections, start here.
A few recommendations: From the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City, you can peek into Frida Kahlo’s diary. (In a 1953 entry, after her right leg was amputated, she wrote, “Feet, what do I need you for, if I have wings to fly?”)
Magda Pach’s portrait of artist Frida Kahlo (1933). Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a thorough breakdown of all the elements — and the use of light — in Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” arguably one of the most famous paintings in the world. You can also take a Google Street Tour of the museum itself here.
The Museu de Arte de São Paulo has a rare 1850 E. F. Schute painting of a waterfall that demonstrates the awe-inspiring power nature of nature.
Turquoise Mountain focuses on the enhancement of the Afghanistan craft industry. Online exhibits delve into the art of carpet making and intricacy of Nastaliq calligraphy.
José Campeche y Jordán’s “San Juan Nepomuceno” (1798). Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum/Teodoro Vidal Collection
Pakistan’s Lahore Museum has online collections of Gandhara sculptures and the largest collection of rare and old coins in the Subcontinent.
There are also numerous 360 YouTube videos that explore different historic sites or ones that take a closer look at fashion milestones, like Coco Chanel’s iconic LBD, or little black dress.
And last year, Google digitized hundreds of artworks made in Puerto Rico. In José Campeche y Jordán’s “El Gobernador Don Miguel Antonio de Ustáriz,” you can see the blue cobblestones being carried in the background.
The Whitney Museum in New York City is opening its digital doors to a collection of more than 25,000 works, including videos of public programs and performances. Go deeper into exhibits with audio guides made especially for kids between the ages of 6 and 10, along with tours in American Sign Language.
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle provides a digital database of archives, photographs, artifacts, and access to online exhibits like the Cantonese Opera Collection.
Chinese tapestry of phoenix among flowers and rocks, dated as far back as the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Image courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
The Walters Art Museum’s collection in Baltimore, spanning more than seven millennia and encompassing 36,000 objects from around the world, can be explored online, including their manuscripts.
Explore the Jewish Museum from home, on any device with a mobile tour of audio recordings, featuring artists’ voices and objects that span 4,000 years of art and global Jewish culture.
The New-York Historical Society offers digital media and collections ranging from 20th century watercolor drawings to bronze sculptures by John Rogers.
Search over 1.5 million assets in Yale’s Digital Library of art, natural history, books, maps, photographs, audio and video, including those of the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Peabody Museum, Lewis Walpole Library and Yale Library Map Collection.
The Yale Center for British Art has a specific online catalog of paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and reference library collections.
As a public facing cultural institution with roots in East Harlem, El Museo del Barrio has digital access to permanent and past exhibits.
Alice Pike Barney’s “Marshlands at Sundown” (1908). Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum/Laura Dreyfus Barney and Natalie Clifford Barney.
View featured artworks from Henri Matisse and Frida Kahlo in the San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art digital collection. Delve into digital publications and videos of artist interviews on Japanese photography or learn about the intersection of avant-garde and experimental games.
From ancient jades and ceramics to contemporary video installations, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco has more than 18,000 objects online. From Persia to the Himalayas, view collection galleries that feature more than 2,000 artworks from all the major cultures of Asia.
Comprising the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have a digitized library of their collection:
Browse the digitized collection of Pierpont Morgan’s immense holdings, ranging from Egyptian art to Renaissance paintings to Chinese porcelains. The Morgan Library and Museum’s online exhibits include Indian and South Asian miniature paintings and recordings of selected poetry by Emily Dickinson.
READ MORE: Winslow Homer’s long love affair with the sea
Joshua Barajas is a senior editor for the PBS NewsHour's Communities Initiative. He also the senior editor and manager of newsletters.
Stephanie García is a news assistant for the NewsHour. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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