By Justin Sanders
The pandemic rages on and it’s awfully cold and dark outside, but the warm light of creativity still burns.
We may not be able to go to a movie theater right now, or get out to see a play, concert, museum, or art gallery – but on our phones, computers, or connected TVs, there are still endless ways to be engaged and inspired by art. In fact, the pandemic has been a catalyst for many artists, who have found new ways to not only produce their creative wares within severe constraints, but to package and present those offerings via interactive experiences that often feel startlingly fresh.
We are happy to feature a handful of those experiences, culled from the world of fine artists and art institutions. Here are eight great virtual fine art spectacles whose very presentation breathes new life into our spirits.
Even before the pandemic, museums were working hard to package their offerings for the digital age. Since the outbreak, these efforts have only accelerated – and nowhere is that more apparent than The Museum of the World, an online collaboration between the British Museum and Google Cultural Institute. Say what you will about Google – and we have said plenty – but its technical wizardry has helped turn the British Museum’s vast collection of objects into a profoundly engaging interactive experience that merges artifacts from five major geographical regions onto a dynamic graph of overlapping timelines. The result is as beautiful to look at as it is easy to navigate – and it adds a jolt of extra fun to the museum’s magnificent and extensive collection.
What The Museum of the World does for its one massive collection, this enthralling co-production by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the NTR TV channel does for a single massive work of art. Experience the Night Watch is a deep dive into one of the world’s most famous and influential paintings, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. And by deep, we mean that you can zoom in to magnifying-lens degrees and peruse every nook, cranny, crack, and crease of this 350-year-old masterpiece that is – according to the museum – “chock-a-block with secrets and stories.” Contextualize your visit with a myriad of clickable highlights, stories, and recordings offering history and analysis of the painting’s colorful cast of characters. It’s almost as much fun as fighting to the front of a crowd to take your selfie with the actual painting in the Netherlands before moving on 30 seconds later so the next person can have a turn. In fact, it might even be better!
Decades before there was Google Maps, there was Ed Ruscha, the legendary pop artist who, in the ‘60s, began driving along Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip with a motorized camera and methodically photographing all of the buildings on both sides of the street. He continued doing so for the next 55 years, producing an archive of a changing city that, according to the Getty Museum’s new website devoted to the series, is “so vast that even Ruscha and his team have not seen many of the images.” The Getty’s 12 Sunsets offers a delightful trek through five decades of one of the world’s most iconic streets, documented by one of the world’s most iconic artists. Using nothing more than your keyboard’s arrow keys, you can select a ride (pickup, VW van, or Bug), cruise along a map of Sunset Boulevard, and pause anywhere you like to cycle through the decades and see what Ruscha’s photos uncover.
Like a lot of us, painter, designer, and potter Viktorija (or “artistVik” as she’s known online) got bored during quarantine. Unlike most of us, Viktorija spent 113 days drawing on a wall in her London home, one drawing a day, until the wall was completely covered. She chronicled the project on Instagram and it’s enthralling – and strangely soothing – to watch her quirky cats, teacups, fluffy dogs, logos, and other random doodles grow and spread over time from a trickle into a veritable sea of whimsy. Encapsulated in one, epic Instagram story, the intricate little project has high replay value – you notice something new every time you watch it. To see it, go to artistVik’s Instagram page and click on her story called “Doodle Wall”.
While we’re on the subject of whimsical Instagram projects, the account known as Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine lit the social world on fire in 2020 when it cleverly prompted followers to spend their isolation making homemade art inspired by existing great works. “1. Choose artwork,” the account suggests. “2. Use 3 household items.” From those simple words, a mesmerizing compilation of user-generated masterpieces was born, as people around the world creatively incorporated whatever they had on hand to recreate works by artists ranging from Frida Kahlo to Vincent Van Gogh. The idea was picked up by the likes of globally renowned institutions the Getty and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum who ran with it, but there is something about TKQ’s original manifestations that are extra charming.
You hear a lot about how publicly funded arts institutions will weather the COVID-19 storm, but what about the thousands of privately owned galleries and other services that collectively fuel the fine art economy? With What’s Up Twenty Twenty, one art advisory service offers a glimpse into how these businesses – and the artists they work with – might cope. LVH Art’s “exhibition and art sale for our time” populates a series of computer-generated environments with actual artworks for sale, placing post-war, modern, and contemporary pieces in and around imaginary places ranging from an elegant Parisian apartment to a “timeless Venetian palazzo”. Using this technology, an artist could conceivably mount a show in any kind of virtual space they desired, indoors or outdoors, upside down or right side up, and instantly share it with the world.
What’s a travel photographer to do if she can’t travel anymore? For one who goes by Erin Outdoors, it meant creating new adventures during pandemic quarantine… indoors. Her viral series Our Great Indoors is a stunningly cool collection that creates spectacular adventure from tiny figurines, broccoli, pillows, pancakes, and other goods gathered from around her home. The photos themselves are thrilling and surreally beautiful, but the best part is watching how Erin does it on her Instagram story documenting the creative process. To watch, just go to her Instagram page and click the story called “Our Great Indoors.”
While we’re on the topic of cool concoctions created from ordinary things, we have to mention the beguiling tiny sculptures of Tatsuya Tanaka, who crafts joy-inducing scenes by merging his extensive collection of diorama dolls with objects ranging from toilet paper to surgical masks. The concept is similar to Erin Outdoors’ images, only Tanaka has been devoted to making a new piece every single day… since 2011. Basically, he was creating beautifully realized quarantine art almost a decade before being quarantined. For extra fun, this video showcasing his process and obsessively organized studio will either inspire you or make you rue your life choices.
That’s our round-up of some innovative visual arts experiences in the pandemic era. We hope you enjoyed it – and we intend to provide more uplifting recommendations in the coming weeks as we all slog through this tough chapter together. We’ll explore a new category of inspiring works each time out – dance, video games, TikTok, or even decorative pillow making!
Until then, find some creativity wherever you can, stay safe, and be well.