Museums have always been a way to escape the pressures of daily life. Yet, just when we really need them, they're closed – except, thank goodness, online.
"It's a whole new world," said Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art, whose museum is available to all via the internet. "You can use your mouse, and zoom in really close and look at fine details of paintings. You can find out lots of written information. You can take a tour of an exhibition."
Like their blockbuster "Degas at the Opéra" show, which opened March 1, just two weeks before the coronavirus pandemic shut the museum's doors.
Correspondent Rita Braver asked Feldman, "It must be hard for you not to be able to have visitors come in and see this exhibit."
"It really is a heartbreak," she replied, "'cause our curators spent years and years working on this exhibition we've done with the Musee d'Orsay of Degas at the Opéra. And yet, we've put it all online so visitors can take a virtual tour. And so, it's not the same as the real thing, but it's pretty darn close."
In fact, armchair surfing across all sorts of media is so easy that museums across the country are seeing a huge surge in online traffic.
Since today's Easter Sunday, take a peek at this gorgeous collection of Fabergé Easter Eggs from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Or check out the National Museum of African American History and Culture's Instagram feed.
You can even watch a curator from the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia give a talk about her favorite painting, Modigliani's "Redheaded Girl in Evening Dress," right from her home:
Art lovers around the world are taking advantage of being stuck at home by recreating their own versions of masterpieces … having fun with just about any artist you can think of. "Girl with a Pearl Earring" will never be the same.
"It's about creative expression; it's about humor; and it's about a reminder that we're all in this together," Feldman said.
Without human guests, aquariums have new tourists: Penguins parade in Chicago, while puppies prance in Atlanta.
You can even go on safari from home, as in this video from the Cincinnati Zoo:
And there are new social media stars. With the rest of the staff gone from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, the chief of security, who goes by #HashtagTheCowboy, has become a Twitter sensation.
Braver asked him via Zoom, "What's that like for you?"
"That's unreal," he replied. "I mean, none of us expected it to be where it is right now."
Folks just can't get enough of his homespun posts like:
Braver asked, "Why do you think people like this so much?"
"I honestly, honestly don't know," replied the Cowboy. "I think it's just a good, positive thing to do right now for everyone. Plus, it shows off what we have here."
Still, even while offering us respite at home, many museums, small and large, are starting to struggle financially. Case in point: New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art had to cancel its star-studded Costume Institute fundraiser. The Met said it will lose $100 million this year.
But crises have often inspired great art: Dorothea Lange's moving photos of the Great Depression … Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks," painted soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor … Keith Haring's response to AIDS.
And Kaywin Feldman, of the National Gallery of Art, believes that, in these troubled times, people can get tangible comfort from art: "We stop worrying about our everyday problems and the things close to us, and we realize that we are part of the human condition," she said.
For more info:
- "Degas at the Opéra" at the National Gallery of Art, Washington: View image gallery, audio tours, video | Purchase exhibition catalogue
- National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City
- #tussenkunstenquarantaine @ Instagram
- Barnes Foundation: Online classes
- Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
- Clyfford Still Museum, Denver
- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.
- Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta
- Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, N.M.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Art at Home
- Museum of Modern Art, New York City
- National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.
- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Nelson @ Home
- Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va.
Story produced by Michelle Kessel. Editor: Steven Tyler.