Architect Lina Bo Bardi’s radical ‘crystal easel’ display system for the Museum of Art in São Paulo. Photo Eduardo Ortega

Art from home — 10 of the best virtual museum experiences in the Americas

Ever wanted to visit Frida Kahlo’s home in Mexico City, stand before Old Masters at the Frick in New York, or admire the antiquities at the Getty? Well, you still can, thanks to the ingenuity of some of the finest museums in the Americas

Henry Clay Frick’s Upper East Side mansion-turned-museum had already been due to close temporarily in 2020 — it has a massive renovation planned, which will open up the second floor to the public for the first time. Ahead of breaking ground the Frick unveiled a brilliantly intuitive virtual tour of the building which can also, helpfully, walk you through the evolution of its architecture.

The museum’s SoundCloud page contains audio guides to accompany your circuit. These focus on both the grand house and its collection of fine Old Masters, sculpture, porcelain and furniture.

The Garden Court, The Frick Collection, New York. Photo Michael Bodycomb
The Garden Court, The Frick Collection, New York. Photo: Michael Bodycomb
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), Officer and Laughing Girl, circa 1657. Oil on canvas (lined). 19⅞ x 18⅛ in. The Frick Collection, New York. Photo Michael Bodycomb

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), Officer and Laughing Girl, circa 1657. Oil on canvas (lined). 19⅞ x 18⅛ in. The Frick Collection, New York. Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Don’t miss… Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece Officer and Laughing Girl, which hangs in the Frick’s South Hall. This brilliant study of indoor light and perspective was probably painted around 1657 with the use of a camera obscura — you can build your own rudimentary version at home with an empty cereal box.

In response to the California lockdown, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has rebranded its website to LACMA @ Home. Highlights from its content to ‘watch, listen, learn, read and browse’ include LACMA Productions, a series of cool contemporary artist profile videos made by emerging and mid-career filmmakers, and the museum’s exhibition soundtracks — curated playlists of old and new music from across the world inspired by LACMA’s recent shows, such as Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific and To Rome and Back: Individualism and Authority in Art, 1500-1800. Inspiring background noise for working from home.

Probably John William (J. W.) Waters, Fijian Warrior (with Whale Tooth Necklace), 1880s. Albumen print.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of Mark and Carolyn Blackburn and purchased with funds from LACMAs 50th Anniversary Gala and Fiji Water. Photo © Museum AssociatesLACMA
Probably John William (J. W.) Waters, Fijian Warrior (with Whale Tooth Necklace), 1880s. Albumen print. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of Mark and Carolyn Blackburn and purchased with funds from LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala and Fiji Water. Photo: © Museum Associates/LACMA
Exterior of the Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo © Museum Associates  LACMA
Exterior of the Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: © Museum Associates / LACMA

Don’t miss… Chocolate, Food of the Gods, in Maya Art, a fascinating article from LACMA’s Unframed  blog. Originally written for National Chocolate Day (28 October in the USA) in 2016, it delves into the story of cacao consumption and worship in the pre-Columbian Americas.

In conjunction with Google Arts & Culture, Brazil’s MASP offers an online chronological walkthrough of its famous ‘Picture Gallery in Transformation’ — a room filled with an outstanding collection of ancient, Old Master, Impressionist and contemporary works of art. The tour is prefaced with a short introduction to the 2015 re-installation of its avant-garde ‘crystal easel’ hanging system, which was originally designed in 1968 by the building’s radical Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi, but removed in 1996. You can also explore the gallery virtually with Google Street View.

Emiliano Di Cavalcanti (1897-1976), Five Girls from Guarantinguetá, 1930. Oil on canvas. 90.5 x 70 x 2.5 cm. MASP.00316. Photo João Musa
Emiliano Di Cavalcanti (1897-1976), Five Girls from Guarantinguetá, 1930. Oil on canvas. 90.5 x 70 x 2.5 cm. MASP.00316. Photo: João Musa

For Portuguese speakers, the museum’s YouTube channel has videos of seminars on topics such as ‘Art and Decolonisation’ and ‘Histories of Dance’, while the MASP Áudios app (available on the Apple App Store and Google Play) has short audio commentaries on highlights from the collection including works by Bellini, Fragonard, Manet and Renoir.

Don’t miss… MASP’s engaging online exhibition Art from Brazil until 1900, which gets under the surface of paintings made by Brazilians and visitors to the country during its colonial and Republic periods.

On The National Gallery of Art’s homepage you can now find links to at-home resources including a brilliant selection of audio and video interviews between its curators and artists such as Alex Katz and Julie Mehretu. In Rachel Whiteread’s episode she gives a candid account of her breakthrough work Ghost (1990), a plaster cast of an entire Victorian parlour room.

There are also lectures on the history of art, downloadable as podcasts, on topics such as ‘The moon in the Age of Photography’, as well as the Washington museum’s usual, vast, browsable, digital archive of art.

George Catlin (1796-1872), The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas, 1844-1845. Oil on canvas. Overall 71 x 58 cm. Paul Mellon Collection. 1965.16.347. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington
George Catlin (1796-1872), The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas, 1844-1845. Oil on canvas. Overall: 71 x 58 cm. Paul Mellon Collection. 1965.16.347. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

For teachers and parents on home-schooling duties, the museum’s educational resources span pre-kindergarten to university level, covering everything from tissue-paper flowers to James Whistler’s etchings. The entertaining NGAkids Art Zone iPad app also lets children make digital artworks based on those in the museum, then curate their own virtual exhibitions.

Don’t miss… An hour-long video introduction to the current exhibition Raphael and His Circle, by Jonathan Bober, the museum’s Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, which begins with his stirring account of the artist’s funeral at Rome’s Pantheon in 1520.

Despite having to close after being open for only a few short weeks, the The Art Institute of Chicago’s El Greco: Ambition and Defiance  exhibition lives up to its name by moving online. You can take a short video tour of the show, narrated by its curator Rebecca Long and research associate Jena Carvana, and explore an interactive feature that charts the fascinating history of the artist’s 1577 masterpiece The Assumption of the Virgin, the altarpiece commission that took him to Toledo.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco, The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577-79 (detail). Oil on canvas. 403.2 x 211.8 cm. Gift of Nancy Atwood Sprague in memory of Albert Arnold Sprague. 1906.99. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco, The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577-79 (detail). Oil on canvas. 403.2 x 211.8 cm. Gift of Nancy Atwood Sprague in memory of Albert Arnold Sprague. 1906.99. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago. The Woman’s Board Grand Staircase. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago. The Woman’s Board Grand Staircase. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

The museum’s Visit Us Virtually webpage outlines more ways you can connect with it online, including tours of its famous collection of Impressionist paintings, and a fun ‘Journeymaker’ tool that builds personalised museum booklets for kids around themes like superheroes and sleepovers.

Georges Seurat (1859-1891), A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884, 1884-1886. Oil on canvas. 207.5 x 308.1 cm. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. 1926.224. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Georges Seurat (1859-1891), A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884, 1884-1886. Oil on canvas. 207.5 x 308.1 cm. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. 1926.224. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Don’t miss…. The Art Institute of Chicago’s huge back catalogue of articles available online for free. Two of the best are Saving Digital Art: Video Migrations, Obsolescence, and Other Tales and Gilding the Dead: Mummy Portraits in Roman Egypt.

The Met’s recent Digital Digest  blog post provides a roundup of its online activities, including a fascinating video of a Native American Yup’ik mask being restored, and dizzying 360-degree interactive flyovers through the museum’s famous neoclassical Great Hall and medieval-inspired cloisters.

The Unicorn Purifies the Water (from the Unicorn Tapestries), 1495-1505. French (cartoon)South Netherlandish (woven). Wool warp with wool, silk, silver and gilt wefts. Overall 368.3 x 378.5 cm. Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937. 37.80.2. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Unicorn Purifies the Water (from the Unicorn Tapestries), 1495-1505. French (cartoon)/South Netherlandish (woven). Wool warp with wool, silk, silver and gilt wefts. Overall: 368.3 x 378.5 cm. Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937. 37.80.2. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

You can also take a digital stroll through 109 works in the Met Breur’s current exhibition Gerhard Richter: Painting After All, which was organised with support from Christie’s. It includes his new work House of Cards (5 Panes), a monumental glass response to Richard Serra’s lead One Ton Prop (House of Cards) from 1969, which is just down the road at MoMA.

Installation view Gerhard Richter, Painting After All at The Met Breuer, 2020. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Chris Heins

Installation view: Gerhard Richter, Painting After All at The Met Breuer, 2020. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Chris Heins

Don’t miss… Stolen Treasure: Art and Archives at Neuschwanstein Castle, a great article form the Met’s archives about the role James Rorimer (a future director of the museum) played in tracking down Nazi-looted art in Germany during World War II, when he worked as one of the famous ‘Monuments Men’.

Last summer, the Bass launched THE BASS², a satellite gallery exclusive to Instagram that exhibits art ‘native to the digital realm’. Its regular Instagram page is also currently running #CafecitoBreak — a hashtag for its post at 3:05pm each day which suggests an art-based activity from its archive.

And if you’ve got a virtual reality headset, why not transport yourself to a room filled with 45 clowns? It was part of Ugo Rondinone’s 2018 show good evening beautiful blue  at the museum and has been digitally reconstructed for its ‘[Virtual] Bass’ initiative.

Pascale Marthine Tayou, Welcome Wall, 2015. 75 LED signs. Dimensions variable. Collection of The Bass. Purchased through the John and Johanna Bass Acquisition Fund. Photo Zachary Balber
Pascale Marthine Tayou, Welcome Wall, 2015. 75 LED signs. Dimensions variable. Collection of The Bass. Purchased through the John and Johanna Bass Acquisition Fund. Photo: Zachary Balber

Don’t miss… Art Camp from Home. In lieu of the Bass’s cancelled Spring Art Camps it has come up with a series of downloadable classes. The second session includes a word search and ‘create your own language’ game based on Pascale Marthine Tayou’s LED sign-covered Welcome Wallfrom its permanent collection. You can even share your creations online at the Bass Creativity Center, which doubles as a place for talking to the museum’s educational staff, if you want more ideas.

Visitors to the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City can now skip the queue by taking a virtual tour of the artist’s former home and garden located at 247 Calle de Londres. With sunlight streaming through the windows, it offers some warm sofa escapism.

Inside, the rooms retain their original furniture and pieces of Mexican folk art, which hang alongside works by Diego Rivera, the artist’s husband.

The Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. Photo © Janet Mary Cook  Bridgeman Images

The Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. Photo: © Janet Mary Cook / Bridgeman Images

There is also a virtual exhibition called Appearances Can Be Deceiving, which looks at a selection of some of the 300 or so pieces of clothing and jewellery that were found hidden in a wardrobe at the property in 2004. Highlights include Kahlo’s famous traditional Mexican dresses, and even the prosthetic leg that she had custom-made (it is embroidered with dragons and bells) following the amputation of her gangrenous right leg in 1953.

Frida Kahlo, Viva la vida. Watermelons, 1954. Oil on masonite. 59.5 x 50.8 cm. Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City. Photo Schalkwijk  Art Resource, New York  Scala, Florence. © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D. F.  DACS 2020
Frida Kahlo, Viva la vida. Watermelons, 1954. Oil on masonite. 59.5 x 50.8 cm. Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City. Photo: Schalkwijk / Art Resource, New York / Scala, Florence. © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D. F. / DACS 2020

Don’t miss… a peek inside Kahlo’s kitchen, dominated by a long yellow-painted table at which she is said to have spent much of her time, and festooned with colourful ceramics.

While pining for the Getty’s sun-drenched panoramas of Los Angeles, visitors to the museum’s website can tour its online multimedia exhibitions, such as The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra  and Bauhaus: Building the New Artist.

Attributed to the Isidora Master (Romano-Egyptian, active 100-125), Mummy Portrait of a Woman, A.D. 100. Encaustic on linden wood; gilt; linen. 48 x 36 x 12.8 cm. 81.AP.42. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
Attributed to the Isidora Master (Romano-Egyptian, active 100-125), Mummy Portrait of a Woman, A.D. 100. Encaustic on linden wood; gilt; linen. 48 x 36 x 12.8 cm. 81.AP.42. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
The Getty Center. Photo Stacey Rain Strickler. © J. Paul Getty Trust
The Getty Center. Photo: Stacey Rain Strickler. © J. Paul Getty Trust

The museum’s virtual library also contains over 300 of its publications, which can be downloaded and read for free. Favourites are Courbet and Modern Landscape, and a meaty 248-page collection of symposium papers about the conservation of the Last Judgement mosaic in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. The museum’s blog the iris has more details of other online resources.

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889. Oil on canvas. 74.3 x 94.3 cm. 90.PA.20. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889. Oil on canvas. 74.3 x 94.3 cm. 90.PA.20. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

Don’t miss… The Getty’s Twitter account, which has been challenging its followers to recreate masterpieces from its collection using things they can find at home. So far participants have presented children, dogs and Lego figures in the guise of saints, muses and beggars.

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The Guggenheim’s building is as famous as its contents. But while it remains off limits, why not take a virtual look around the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed National Historic Landmark while listening to a nine-part audio tour presented by Roman Mars, host of the successful 99% Invisible  design and architecture podcast.

The Guggenheim’s Behind the Scenes  YouTube channel also makes for fascinating viewing. The best video is a timelapse of the mind-boggling installation of Maurizio Cattelan’s All — a sculpture composed of 128 of his earlier works, which were delicately suspended together as a mobile in the museum’s iconic rotunda. 

Franz Marc (1880-1916), Stables (Stallungen), 1913. Oil on canvas. 73.6 x 157.5 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection. Photo The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation  Art Resource, NY  Scala, Florence
Franz Marc (1880-1916), Stables (Stallungen), 1913. Oil on canvas. 73.6 x 157.5 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection. Photo: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY / Scala, Florence

Don’t miss… The Guggenheim’s At-Home art classes, on select Mondays and Thursdays. Hosted through the video conferencing app Zoom, each 45-minute session engages with kids aged under 10 on works in the museum’s collection, with creative making prompts along the way.

Next up, Europe and the Rest of the World