Travel the world with these online museum collections

Travel the world with these online museum collections

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Japan

In the market for yet more websites sure to provide distraction for hours on end? There are plenty of those out there. Hoping to emerge from the depths of the net with some knowledge in your pocket? A virtual tour through the collections of some of the world’s most interesting museums might be just the ticket.

Google Arts & Culture is an online platform set up to provide the public with access to high-resolution images of artworks. First launched in Feb. 2011 in cooperation with 17 international museums, today the initiative features items from more than 1,200 museums and archives spanning the globe.

Artsy types are sure to have a grand old time just clicking through the site’s features including narrations of specific works in video form, collections of the works of specific artists all in one place, or groupings of great works of art by predominant color.

Numerous other digital collections outside of Google’s initiative exist as well. In January 2020, Paris Musées added some 100,000 digital copies of its artworks to the public domain. With so many museum doors temporarily shuttered, an ever-increasing number of them are accelerating steps toward putting their holdings online for all to see. Galleries are also moving their artists’ works online. Always dreamed of visiting Art Basel, one of the world’s most important art fairs? Register online and access to its Online Viewing Rooms is yours free of charge. Purchase of a million-dollar work of art is, of course, optional.

In this strange new era in which all travel is virtual, the chance to get to know key pieces in a museum’s collection could serve as a tempting teaser for trips to come, or the opportunity to see the up-close details of a work of art discovered on a past journey.

For those after more specific inspiration, we’ve stitched together a compilation of exhibitions showcasing art and culture and imparting knowledge on a tour spanning six continents:

Africa: Our armchair tour around the world begins with a virtual visit to the National Museums of Kenya, the keeper of the country’s cultural and natural heritage both past and present. The institution brings regional museums and their collections, along with monuments and exceptional sites, under one umbrella. Among the most impressive of its generous digital offerings are online exhibits spotlighting the traditions and lifestyles of its myriad ethnic groups. The online collection titled Get to Know Kenya’s Communities introduces the virtual visitor to 28 groups through their traditional objects and ornaments.

Antarctica: Our trip to the bottom of the world comes courtesy of the collections of the State Library of New South Wales. Discovering Antarctica is an online collection of centuries-old maps, paintings and black and white photographs of the explorers who braved its vast unknown and the animals they encountered there over a century ago.

Asia: In your present nature-deprived state, you might be craving the sight of gentle, sweeping landscapes. In such a case, pour yourself a cup of soothing Matcha tea and sink into the Adachi Museum of Art. One of the best features of this museum located in Yasugi is its setting, nestled in a vast garden that changes with the seasons, boasting azaleas in spring and red maples in autumn. Harmonizing with its supreme setting is its collection of modern Japanese paintings including those by painter Yokoyama Taikan, whose works the private museum’s founder Adachi Zenko admired above all. Take a virtual tour through the museum or browse images by category and click on the paintings which capture your imagination for details on the artist and the work itself.

Australia: Take a quick trip Down Under without the jetlag by checking out the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. Within the subcategory Australia, you’ll find landscapes and scenes of daily life. Get to know Tom Roberts, an Impressionist painter regarded as the father of Australian landscape painting and a member of the Heidelberg School.

Europe: Let’s take the opportunity to get to know the holdings of the British War Museum, a family of five entities (Churchill War Rooms, the Imperial War Museums of Duxford, London and North, and the HMS Belfast), tasked with recording and showcasing experiences in modern conflict. One could get lost for days in the museum’s extensive digitalized collection. In this time of mortal threats to health, the gut-wrenching collection The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen brings into sharp focus the heroism of those who have chosen tending to the health of others as their calling.

North America: Our next stop comes courtesy of the Digital Photography Collections of the National Archives, where we can delve into the history of the USA by means of its treasure trove of images. In addition to NARA’s own resources, the site provides links to other important collections. An online exhibit titled Picturing the Century: One Hundred Years of Photography from the National Archives walks us through everyday life and watershed moments of the 20th century. Images range from that of the aeroplane in which the Wright Brothers first achieved flight in 1903 to six First Ladies sitting at a single table in 1994.

South America: The last leg of our tour takes us to the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, Colombia. Its extraordinary pre-Hispanic goldwork collection, the biggest in the world, tells of the life and thought of societies that inhabited the region prior to contact with Europe. Other archaeological objects crafted of pottery, stone, shell, wood and textiles bring these cultures into sharper focus. The online Birds collection displays an array of ancient and stunningly crafted items used in shamanic rituals.

If once we’re through this, you should have the chance to see some of these collections with your own eyes, your background knowledge and sense of having fulfilled an aspiration made in these uncertain times might just make the experience that much sweeter!

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