Coronavirus closures may mean months could pass before you can stand in front of a museum masterpiece again. If you have time on your hands and a deep need for cultural sustenance and succor, be it for yourself or your children, it’s time to get familiar with a resource so obvious it’s not: Google Arts & Culture.
This Google project launched nearly a decade ago, and while you likely were forgetting about it, the platform expanded exponentially. It now features thousands of high-resolution images from more than 1,200 museums globally, including the National Gallery in London, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
You can visit Google Arts & Culture as a website on your laptop or desktop, but the project is at its immersive best when engaged via the Google Arts & Culture app, which you can download for free on your smartphone or tablet. The great joy is its ability to transport you into the textural world of a piece of art. Zoom into brushstrokes, skate across oceans of color or a tap on a screen and explore the universe contained in the blue-green pigment of a single painted eye.
Images are accompanied by explanatory text, and you can spend days diving into the collection of any given partner institution.
Here we’ve rounded up some of our favorite virtual exhibits on the platform. It’s also worth noting that the websites of local institutions like the Getty Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County promise robust online options to help us in our coming weeks of collective isolation. But for now, here are six ways to let Google be your global museum.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam: Take a virtual trip to the Netherlands and this museum, which offers one of 17 collections of Van Gogh paintings in the Google project. You can see amazingly detailed images of more than 160 artworks, including sunflowers, self-portraits and his famous “The Bedroom.” You also can click into the story, “Which Books Did Vincent Van Gogh Read?” Scroll through Van Gogh paintings inspired by the literature he favored, including “The Vicarage at Nuenen,” which captures the moody, windswept home where Van Gogh’s parents lived and where the young painter first grew to love the moralistic tales of Charles Dickens.
Uffizi Galleries, Florence: Take a virtual tour of one of Italy’s most famous museums, featuring up-close looks at the museum’s interiors and the stunning masterpieces on its walls, including Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” (The magnification of the latter is so powerful, you can see cracks in the paint of her eyelids.) Wander placid hallways and corridors, and gaze out a window at the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which straddles the picturesque Arno River.
Guggenheim Bilbao Museum: Get up-close and personal with a selection of modernist triumphs inside the Frank Gehry-designed landmark in Spain. “Masterpieces From the Collection” has art from the mid-20th century to the present: Mark Rothko, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yves Klein and Willem de Kooning, revealed in luminous layers.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington: You can take a digital walk through “African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond,” featuring work by black artists from the 1920s through the 2000s. This exhibition explores the Harlem-based portrait photography of James VanDerZee, the lush brushstrokes of James A. Porter and the expressionistic folk art of William Henry Johnson, as well as a trove of others works relating to race, identity, politics, culture and family.
Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City: “Appearances Can Be Deceiving: Frida Kahlo’s Wardrobe” is an intimate study of the fascinating, highly stylized clothing and accessories that defined the look of the famous Mexican painter. Kahlo’s life was forever altered by a bus accident that displaced three vertebrae and left her in pain for the rest of her life. Crutches, elaborate leather corsets, a prosthetic leg in a gorgeous red-leather boot embroidered with silk thread — they’re all on digital view, as are a slew of Kahlo’s traditional Mexican dresses. Just as Google’s zoom feature provides a revelatory look at paintings, the blown-up photography here can reveal, say, the tiniest beads adorning a very Frida blouse. It feels like an in-person experience.
Art Zoom: Thank Google not only for all of those interactive exhibitions but also for Art Zoom videos that play like mini documentaries, zeroed in on tiny details of famous canvases and narrated by famous musicians including Jarvis Cocker and Maggie Rogers. A prime example: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Tower of Babel” as examined by Feist. The Canadian singer-songwriter takes us inside her interpretation of one of Bruegel’s most famous works, which she notes stands 5 feet, 1 inch high — almost as tall as the singer herself.