6 immersive art exhibits to explore online

After a long and difficult year, the holidays are finally here. We deserve some time to relax with our loved ones, decompress and maybe even soak up some culture. While you curl up to read books and browse the movies on your list, you might also consider visiting some art exhibits during the break.

This year, museums around the world have been forced to close, but many have found creative ways to make their exhibits available virtually. We’ve explored the many options available to curate a list of the most immersive shows you can enjoy from the comfort of your home, for free. There’s never been a better time to be an Armchair Explorer.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York presents an exhibition entitled Engineer, agitator, builder: the reinvented artist, 1918-1939, which explores the art and graphic design of the interwar period, particularly in the Soviet empire. The exhibition shows how artists of the time redefined the very purpose of art, in part because art was no longer funded by wealthy patrons or the church, but by corporations and the state . You can view the artwork on MOMA’s webpage, along with audio from an expert explaining the background and meaning of each piece.

Google has partnered with the United Nations for this amazing exploration of World Heritage Sites, considered by the UN to be of special cultural significance. Many sites around the world are threatened by climate change. This website offers tours of five locations, ranging from Bagerhat, a former city of mosques in Bangladesh threatened by flooding, to the port city of Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania, threatened by coastal erosion. You can see great videos, learn about the history of the sites, meet locals, and hear from conservationists about what can be done to preserve them.

If you’ve ever wanted to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in a museum, this British Museum podcast will delight you. Museum curators take you on an audio tour of the museum, telling little-known stories of objects from the museum’s London collection, including jewelry from antiquity and the mysterious black goo from ancient Egypt. One of my favorite episodes is episode 16, which delves into the history of ice cream.

[Screenshot: Peabody Essex Museum]

Peabody Essex Museum: Jacob Lawrence and American Wrestling

This year we’ve seen some of the biggest civil rights protests in decades, prompting many Americans to reflect on how systemic racism is playing out around the world. This new exhibition from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, explores the marginalization of black art by revisiting the work of Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), one of the best-known black artists of the 20th century. Lawrence’s paintings interpret key moments of the American Revolution and the early decades of the republic. On the museum’s webpage, you can walk through the exhibit virtually, taking your time to explore each panel and read the curator’s notes. For the most immersive experience, I recommend viewing it in full-screen mode.

Throughout the year, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco offered in-depth explorations of a range of exhibits, all streamed on YouTube. These hour-long sessions bring together curators, local artists, authors and other experts, as well as many works of art from the museums. The topics covered run the gamut, but some of my favorites include an exploration of Frida Kahlo’s time in America and a look at how AI plays out in our world.

The Boston MFA offers a new look at the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) in New York in the 1980s, when hip-hop music and culture reigned supreme. This exhibition explores how Basquiat worked with collaborators to create an insurrectionary movement in American art. The MFA website offers many ways to immerse yourself in the exhibit: It offers a playlist of music from the era, as well as slideshows, videos, and in-depth descriptions of the themes covered.

William E. Bennett