Need a mental break this holiday season? Had a full helping of Christmas movies and need a change? How about enjoying a virtual visit to one of the nation’s best art museums?
Whether you’re partial to painting or sculpture, or lean toward photography, film, music, or decorative arts, there’s something available online for everyone’s taste. Below is a look at ten of the top art museums in the country, and how you can enjoy online exhibitions and other resources available to the public for free.
Note: As 2020 comes to a close, most of the premiere art institutions discussed in this article are currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Half of the institutions have closed for a second time after re-opening to the public earlier in the year. Fortunately, in light of continued COVID-19 concerns, museum fans still have the option of visiting their favorite institutions online.
Current status: The Met Fifth Avenue and Met Cloisters are open to the public, Thursday to Monday. Timed tickets may be required for entry. To plan your visit, click here.
In addition to being the country’s largest art museum, The Metropolitan, or The Met, is the fourth most-visited art museum in the world. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, including art from classical antiquity and ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters, and an extensive collection of American and modern art. The Met also has an extensive collection of African, Asian, Oceanian, Byzantine, and Islamic art.
A good place to start an online exploration of the Met is the museum’s Art at Home web page. From here you can take virtual tours of featured exhibits, explore the history of art through the Met’s collection, and access blogs, lectures, classic films, concerts, art books, artist profiles, and virtual events. The Met 360° Project features a series of short videos that takes visitors on an immersive, 360° tour of the museum’s most iconic spaces.
Online visitors can also listen to and share audio tracks from the Met’s Audio Guide web page. The page contains more than 3,000 recordings prepared for Met exhibitions and thousands of artworks in the galleries.
Featured online exhibits and events
- Celebrating the Holidays at The Met: Five Things to Know: See some seasonal highlights on display now at the Met.
- MetLiveArts—Handel and Haydn Society: Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Celebrate the season with Claudio Monteverdi’s transcendent Vespers for the Blessed Virgin, an evening prayer service for chorus, soloists, and instrumentalists (2017 performance).
- Crossroads: A look at three installations with overarching themes that have inspired artists across cultures: Power and Piety, Empires and Emporia, and Mythical Beasts.
- Art of Native America: An exhibit of 116 masterworks representing Native American artists from more than fifty cultures.
- Making the Met, 1870-2020: Celebrating 150 years of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (hosted on “Google Arts & Culture”).
- There’s a Revolution in Your Teapot: Unexpected themes in the new British galleries of decorative arts and design.
- In Praise of Painting: An exploration of Dutch Masterpieces at The Met.
Current status: Open seven days a week, 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Entry is by advance timed ticket only. To plan your visit, click here.
The Museum of Modern Art, aka MoMA, has one of the premier collections of modern and contemporary art in the world, including painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books and films. Among the nearly 200,000 pieces of art in the museum are some of the best-known works of modern art, such as Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies triptych, Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy, and Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory. MoMa also has an extensive art library, featuring more than 300,000 books and periodicals, as well as primary source material tracing the history of modern and contemporary art.
Check out these MoMa resources:
- Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented: Explores a radically new approach to artmaking in the 1920s and ’30s that took place in lockstep with that era’s shifts in industry, technology, and labor, and amid the profound impact of momentous events: World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of fascism.
- Félix Fénéon, The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde — From Signac to Matisse and Beyond: The first exhibition dedicated to this extraordinarily influential but little-known figure explores how he shaped the development of modernism.
- Companion Pieces: New Photography 2020: An exhibit exploring the way photographers weave together multiple images to convey complex messages.
- Judd: An exhibit of one of the foremost modern sculptors, Donald Judd (1928–1994), showcasing his revolutionary approach to form, materials, working methods, and display.
- Collection, 1940s–1970s: A survey of artwork on Floor 4 of the MoMa museum, featuring a wide array of artists, forms, styles and mediums.
Current status: The museum is temporarily closed through early January 2021 in keeping with the City of Boston’s latest health directive.
The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston is the fifth-largest museum in the U.S. The museum contains one of the most comprehensive art collections in the Americas, with more than 450,000 pieces. It is home to more than 8,000 paintings, second only in the Americas to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The permanent collection is noted for its Ancient Egyptian artifacts, Asian art, French Impressionist paintings, and early American art.
The MFA video library features virtual exhibition tours, artist interviews, and musical performances. The Online Events page let’s you browse upcoming online events—music, performances, distance learning classes, chats, talks, and more. You can also visit the MFA web page on the “Google Arts & Culture” website to view online exhibits, features, and an interactive walk-through of the museum galleries.
Featured Online Exhibit
The Monet and Boston: Lasting Impression exhibit brings together the museum’s unparalleled collection of Monet paintings for the first time in a generation—in honor of its 150th anniversary. Take a virtual tour.
Current status: The museum is temporarily closed in accordance with Philadelphia city government health restrictions.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the nation’s oldest public art museums, and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. The museum’s collection contains over 240,000 pieces, featuring artwork of European, American, and Asian origin. Highlights include the world’s largest collection of works by Marcel Duchamp, the country’s finest public collection of sculpture by Auguste Rodin, and a major collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The museum also houses a popular collection of armor throughout the ages, and an exceptional collection of American decorative arts.
To explore the museum’s collection online, start here. You can view the collection by artist or search the museum’s database to explore artworks by title, type of artwork, country of origin, and department.
Featured online exhibits
- South Asian Art
- Kōgei: Art Craft Japan (One-of-a-kind, handcrafted objects made with traditional techniques and natural materials)
- New European Galleries (Selections from the museum’s Impressionist art collection)
- African American Art
- Arts of the Islamic World
- Artful Adornment (Necklaces and Neckpieces).
Current status: The National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden are temporarily closed.
Located on the National Mall, the National Gallery of Art (NGA) is one of the largest museums in North America and the second most visited art museum in the country, behind the Met. It boasts one of the most expansive art collections in the nation, featuring paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, rare illustrated books, sculptures, medals, and decorative arts that trace the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present. The massive collection includes the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas as well as works by such masters as Titian, Raphael, El Greco, Goya, and Delacroix.
Search the museum’s entire collection or take a virtual 3D tour of current exhibits featured on the NGA home page. When taking a virtual gallery tour, you can get a description of individual works in the gallery by clicking on the small colored dots associated with each work. Some buttons enable you to listen to an audio description or see related video clips. Be sure to select the “Learn more about this work” link to view a full-sized image of the work.
Featured online exhibits
- 21 Works to Ring in 2021: Ring in 2021, and reflect on 2020, with 21 inspiring works from the National Gallery of Art collection.
- Collection Highlights.
- True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780-1870.
- Degas at the Opéra: A show dedicated to Edgar Degas’s fascination with the Opéra — its spaces, the music, and the people involved with the thriving theatrical life of 19th-century Paris.
- Raphael and His Circle: A display of 26 prints and drawings by Raphael to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
Current status: The Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery’s buildings are closed temporarily.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. The museum, which features more than 7,000 American artists, showcases the nation’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to the present day. The museum’s collection includes paintings, folk art, photography, New Deal art, contemporary craft and decorative arts, and even video games.
Access these resources online:
Featured online exhibits
- ¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now.
- Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020. Four guest artists explore what it means to be human in a world increasingly chaotic and divorced from our physical landscape.
- Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture.
- Experience America. A selection of paintings from New Deal artists.
* Image: Smithsonian American Art Museum / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Current status: The museum is temporarily closed in accordance with State of Illinois health directives.
The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the U.S. and one of the nation’s oldest art institutions. The museum’s wide-ranging collection includes such well-known works as Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. The museum has a permanent collection of nearly 300,000 works of art and hosts more than 30 special exhibitions yearly.
A good place to start is the museum’s Visit Us Virtually web page. From here you can search the entire collection, watch videos, and download audio tours. Also of interest is the Interactive Features webpage, which enables you to explore different pieces of artwork in the museum’s collection close-up.
Experience the Art Institute’s spectacular crèche online. The crèche features over 200 figures—including no less than 50 animals and 41 still-life objects—configured in an ornate cabinet with a painted backdrop.
Current status: Open with restrictions. For museum hours and visitor guidelines, click here.
Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts has the largest art collection in the southwestern United States and is the sixth-largest art museum in the country. The focus of the museum’s collection is on Italian Renaissance painting, French Impressionism, and American and European decorative arts. Some of the most popular pieces come from impressionists such as Monet, Signac, and Cezanne. The museum’s collections are housed in seven facilities, and it ranks among the top ten museums in the nation for total attendance.
** Image: Hequals2henry / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Current status: The museum galleries are temporarily closed.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum in the western United States with a wide-ranging collection that spans the history of art from the ancient to the present. Reflecting the region’s rich cultural heritage, the museum houses one of the largest collections of Latin American art outside of Latin America. The museum’s collection is also notable for its modern and contemporary artworks, Asian art, and exhibits devoted to the area’s entertainment industry.
LACMA has redesigned its homepage to focus on free content that users can access from home. Click the Watch link to view short films, exhibition walk-throughs, and documentaries about artwork and artists in the museum’s collection. Click Browse to see highlighted artwork from the LACMA’s permanent collection.
Also of note is the Artists on Art video series, which features contemporary artists talking about works in the LACMA collection that have influenced them and fed their creativity.
Current status: Temporarily closed.
The J Paul Getty Museum, aka the Getty, is housed on two campuses: the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. The Getty Center features pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, decorative arts, and an extensive collection of photographs that showcase the history of photography. The collection includes major works by Manet and Monet. The Getty Villa is dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria, and has an extensive collection of antiquities, of which over 1,200 are on view.
The Getty has put together a starter kit for exploring the museum’s art and exhibitions while the galleries are closed. In addition, you can search the museum’s complete collection of art and library resources using the tools on the Art and Research Collections web page.
Featured online content
- What Did Ancient Romans Eat? (Blog) … More blogs and podcasts
- Assyria: Palace Art of Ancient Iraq
- Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins
- Michelangelo: Mind of the Master.