During the current Corona pandemic, museums and exhibitions everywhere are closed and will apparently stay so for the next weeks or months. Visiting museums is something I already miss. A longer bicycle tour to a museum is my standard Sunday routine. Because I am always working from home as a freelancer on Monday to Friday, I really feel an urge to get out and experience new things on the weekends.
In this lockdown situation, articles recommending digital museums are surfacing on diverse chanels. Under normal circumstances I would scarcely be interested, but now this is a very interesting option. Thus I thoroughly looked into the possibilities that contemporary digital museums provide.
What is a digital museum? Without getting too philosophical about it, one could describe it as a webpage that allows visitors to experience the artefacts at display in a museum in digital form. Three ways of presenting exhibitions are common:
- Catalogues (archives, databases): Photographed artefacts with descriptions are made accessible via searchable databases. Applying filters to the content is necessary to get something useful out of this (for instance by art epoch, also very useful: only showing those objects on display in the physical museum). The enjoyability of these catalogues increases with functionalities such as short explanatory texts, showing curated highlights, or showing crosslinks between objects. A great example of this format is the catalogue of the Städelmuseum (Frankfurt, Germany):
- Slideshows (articles, stories): For a specific topic several photographed artefacts are shown accompanied by longer explanatory text. This is often done in scrollytelling format, where new content dynamically appears as the reader scrolls down. A great example of this format are these slideshows of new acqusitions by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA):
- Virtual museums (360° immersive experiences): The museum rooms are replicated as 360° views. The entire museum can be navigated from skipping from one viewing point to the next. In many cases the images are of such high resolution that the lables at the exhibits can be read. In some cases clicking on objects opens explanatory text windows or higher resolution photos. Audio descriptions may also be added. A great example of this format is the virtual tour of a part of the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, Netherlands):
Some museums make use of all of these formats. Further multimedia content such as videos and podcast are also often provided on the museum website.
The single best ressource for digital museums is Google Arts & Culture. Many of the most renowned museums of the world present parts of their collection on the site. I very much recommend to browse and search the incredibly long list of participating museums (also see image below). Within the site, the content is provided in the three formats discussed above. Immersive 360° views are availabe on many museum pages when scrolling down. It needs to be taken into account though, that many museums provide some of their best content only on their own websites.
For German museums the best single source seems to be Museum Digital. This is a searchable catalog of photographed exhibits provided by more than 600 German museums:
Here a list of the best digital museums I found in the domains of design, modern art, and architecture. If you are interested in other genres you could take a look at this list here (in German).
Digital design museums:
- MoMa (The Museum of Modern Art) (New York, USA): a searchable catalogue with more than 85 000 works. The „on view“ filter provides a good subselection.
- Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK): shows a curated selection of exhibits for a number of topics. A searchable catalogue is also available.
- Partners in Design (internet only, Canada) by the Virtual Museum of Canada: a small but nicely done slideshow museum. Extra points for featuring Dieter Rams‘ 10 principles of good design.
- Vitra Design Musem (Weil am Rhein, Germany): a searchable catalogue of furniture design, with an emphasis on designer chairs.
- AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Design archives (internet only, USA): a searchable catalogue.
- Bauhaus Dessau (Dessau, Germany) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue, and 360° views.
- Alvar Aalto Foundation (Helsinki, Finland) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue, and 360° views.
- Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, FUREAIKAN (Kyoto, Japan) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue, and 360° views.
Digital modern art museums:
- Solomon R. Guggeheim Museum (New York, USA): searchable catalogue, also in Google Arts & Culture with 360° views.
- Oscar Niemeyer Museum (Curitiba, Brasil) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue
- MAM, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (São Paulo, Brasil) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue, 360° views
- That’s Contemporary (Milan, Italy) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue
- Today Art Museum (Beijing, China) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue, 360° views
- Museum Folkwang (Essen, Germany) in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue
- (… and many more in Google Arts and Culture)
Digital architecture museums:
- Streetview within google maps provides a nice way to take a 360° look at architecture around the world. Simply drag and drop the yellow person icon on the lower right onto any blue line or point on the map. Google has prepared content for many main roads. Individuals have added many single 360° viewpoints for popular sightseeing spots. Content of this type is also directly available in Google Arts & Culture here.
- 3D view within google maps makes it possible to take a bird’s eye view at architecture (where 3D data is available). Simply activate the satellite view on the lower left, and then click on the globe icon in the lower right. Press control and press the left mouse button to rotate the view. Alternatively you can use Google Earth to look at 3D views.
- UNESCO World Heritage List: a searchable catalogue with photos and videos.
- World Monuments Fund: a searchable catalogue with photos
- Museo della Civilità Romana (Rome, Italy): in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue, and 360° views.
- Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism (Seoul, South Korea): in Google Arts and Culture: with slideshows, catalogue
- SOS Brutalism: a catalogue of brutalist architecture
The list is far from complete, but hopefully contains enough interesting tips to whet your appetite. With museums closed for the next weeks or months it will be interesting to find further pearls and to see if new digital museums are made available.