Various images all with the same colour palette.

Art in isolation

The world’s museums and galleries are predominantly closed, but your laptop can still provide front-row seats to the most anticipated exhibitions

By Rosalind Jana   Friday 3 April, 2020   Long read

With millions of people around the globe currently under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so many things seemingly taken for granted – the sweaty, electric energy of a crowd at a gig, the physical arms-distance divide between audience and performer as things play out onstage and the quiet massed hush of an exhibition – have not just been upended, but entirely suspended. 
But staying at home doesn’t need to mean a complete stop to those experiences –  there is plenty of comforting evidence out there that art does not exist only in the situational. Indeed, one small upside of the current circumstances has been an emphasis on the number of arts now accessible online from one’s own living room, bed, bath or garden. The art world has jumped on this experiential in digitally welcoming viewers into premiere exhibitions from all over the world. It gives them a chance to travel, albeit in their minds, and continue the cultural exploration they’re so accustomed to (without even having to get dressed).
Take Google’s Arts & Culture platform. Working with more than a thousand galleries and museums, this is a great initial port of call: stuffed full of interesting stories, tech experiments (fancy exploring the colour palettes uniting disparate paintings or fashion collections?) and up-close interactions with some of the world’s finest arts institutions. Collaborating with spaces including The Guggenheim in New York, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, The V&A in London, The J. Paul Getty Museum in LA, Pergamon Museum in Berlin and Musée D’Orsay in Paris, users can take virtual tours of buildings and zoom in on famous paintings to get up close and personal with the brushstrokes.
Various paintings lined up in a wide gallery space with a direction arrow at the bottom.
An old lady drawing in her studio.

Courtesy of The Easton Foundation and Hauser & Wirth

A simple abstract drawing in red of two people hugging.
[In the wake of their physical spaces closing, individual institutions have bulked up their online output. The Met has released five decades of catalogues free for perusal, and MoMA’s #MuseumFromHome programme provides interactive projects, podcasts and arts recommendations. Elsewhere, The ICA has set up a daily newsletter brimming with links to read, watch and listen to, while Tate Kids has collated a fantastic set of creative prompts for children stuck indoors. Collectives such as ART Power HK, representing Hong Kong-based galleries, museums and auction houses, have also helped bolster local arts communities. And last week, Art Basel was replaced with a series of online viewing rooms.
For places that have had major exhibitions cancelled, online alternatives have likewise provided a viable interim option for viewers still keen to get their arts kicks. For starters, see The National Gallery’s guided Titian tour from London, The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza’s virtual walk through Rembrandt And Amsterdam Portraiture: 1590-1670 from Madrid and Hauser & Wirth’s online presentation of Louise Bourgeois Drawings 1947-2007. Tate's free virtual exhibition tours begin on 6 April with the Andy Warhol retrospective currently hanging in Tate Modern. Instagram accounts such as the newly created @artofsocialdistancing are also doing a stellar job of highlighting exhibitions and artists impacted by the pandemic.
A greek ruin in a large museum space.

'Indeed, one small upside of the current circumstances has been an emphasis on the number of arts now accessible online from one’s own living room, bed, bath or garden.'

A painting with information about it layered over it.
A painting on a wall with a clickable red icon next to it.
Of course, not all of this is novel. Numerous institutions have made good use of Instagram and other tools in recent years. One of the great general pleasures of the internet is the chance to browse through any number of paintings, sculptures, photos, films and audio. Whether you’re trawling Art UK for a particular painting (which, as of May, will allow users to curate their own online exhibitions), or browsing Open Culture in search of something to read, the digital world has long offered rewarding resources for those seeking new horizons. None of this diminishes the fact that this is a devastating time for so many places and creative practitioners. But it’s heartening in the midst of so much uncertainty to focus on the wealth of expansive, absorbing forms of art available at the click of a mouse or tap of a screen. A testament to both individual ingenuity and collective effort, they offer solace and distraction in a strange time and suggest intriguing routes for innovation going forwards.
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