Social Distancing: How to Enjoy Art in the Virtual World

By Hannah Shepard

If you are feeling deprived of art & culture while ‘sheltering in place,’ here are a few ways to explore museums, galleries and theatre from the comfort of your own home. 

Galleries, museums and art-lovers alike are currently entering a new age for the delivery and consumption of art – and not by choice. The unexpected and grave impact of the coronavirus pandemic has led to sudden closures of art institutions, large and small, around the globe, as well as this season’s much anticipated art fairs. 

Art Basel Hong Kong was one of the first to announce its cancellation in early February, followed by other notable closures and postponements: South by Southwest, the Venice Architecture Biennale, Frieze New York, the Louvre, the National Gallery of Art and a sweeping shutter of the remaining spaces throughout New York City. 

According to Kabir Jhala, the Editorial Assistant at The Art Newspaper, “When God closes a gallery door he opens a browser window.” That is exactly what we are witnessing today as the art world goes viral.

Though certainly unfortunate, the circumstances have left fairs, galleries and museums no choice but to fully embrace the digital realm, thus stimulating an explosion of novel ways to explore artwork across platforms, such as online viewing rooms, live-streaming gallery tours, virtual reality exhibitions and online art classes.

While we all practice our ‘social distancing’ techniques, here are our top five choices for how to tap into this new visual realm from the comfort of your own couch:

  • The Google Arts & Culture platform offers innovative ways to explore over 2,500 of the world’s leading museums and galleries. Take a virtual walk through Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, where you can zoom into Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus until the minuscule cracks in the paint can be seen. Or take a closer look at the many faces of Frida Kahlo by viewing over 800 paintings, photographs and objects in the online exhibition Faces of Frida.
  • Already available now to the VIP elite, Art Basel Hong Kong will open its online viewing rooms to the public from March 20-25. The digital platform will showcase 234 galleries, which is 95% of the fair’s original roster, and present over 2000 works with a combined value of $270 million. Viewing rooms are amplified with videos of artists working in their studios, links to podcasts and additional information on the artworks.
  • The Louvre was ahead of the game with online virtual tours of the museum’s exhibition rooms and galleries offered on their website. Discover the famous gold ceilings of La Galerie D’Apollon or be greeted by the Great Sphinx of Tanis as you wander through the collection of Egyptian Antiques in the eastern wing.
  • For theatre-goers, the Metropolitan Opera is putting on nightly opera streams. For every day that their stage is dark during the closure, the Met will stream a different encore presentation from the company’s Live in HD series.
  • And don’t underestimate YouTube, where you can watch in awe as you travel from room to room through Yayoi Kusama’s hypnotic Infinity Rooms or check out the Royal Opera House’s channel for a selection of famous operas and ballets, like The Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.
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