Take a Virtual Tour of 30 World-Class Museums & Safely Visit 2 Million Works of Fine Art

Rosetta Stone

Since the first stirrings of the internet, artists and curators have puzzled over what the fluidity of online space would do to the experience of viewing works of art. At a conference on the subject in 2001, Susan Hazan of the Israel Museum wondered whether there is “space for enchantment in a technological world?” She referred to Walter Benjamin’s ruminations on the “potentially liberating phenomenon” of technologically reproduced art, yet also noted that “what was forfeited in this process were the ‘aura’ and the authority of the object containing within it the values of cultural heritage and tradition.” Evaluating a number of online galleries of the time, Hazan found that “the speed with which we are able to access remote museums and pull them up side by side on the screen is alarmingly immediate.” Perhaps the “accelerated mobility” of the internet, she worried, “causes objects to become disposable and to decline in significance.”

VG-Self-Portrait-1887

Fifteen years after her essay, the number of museums that have made their collections available online whole, or in part, has grown exponentially and shows no signs of slowing. We may not need to fear losing museums and libraries—important spaces that Michel Foucault called “heterotopias,” where linear, mundane time is interrupted. These spaces will likely always exist.




Yet increasingly we need never visit them in person to view most of their contents. Students and academics can conduct nearly all of their research through the internet, never having to travel to the Bodleian, the Beinecke, or the British Library. And lovers of art must no longer shell out for plane tickets and hotels to see the precious contents of the Getty, the Guggenheim, or the Rijksmuseum. And who would dare do that during our current pandemic?

For all that may be lost, online galleries have long been “making works of art widely available, introducing new forms of perception in film and photography and allowing art to move from private to public, from the elite to the masses.”

Kandinsky-Composition-II

Even more so than when Hazan wrote those words, the online world offers possibilities for “the emergence of new cultural phenomena, the virtual aura.” Over the years we have featured dozens of databases, archives, and online galleries through which you might virtually experience art the world over, an experience once solely reserved for only the very wealthy. And as artists and curators adapt to a digital environment, they find new ways to make virtual galleries enchanting. The vast collections in the virtual galleries listed below await your visit, with 2,000,000+ paintings, sculptures, photographs, books, and more. See the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (top), courtesy of the Google Cultural Institute. See Van Gogh's many self-portraits and vivid, swirling landscapes at The Van Gogh Museum. Visit the Asian art collection at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries. Or see Vassily Kandinsky's dazzling abstract compositions at the Guggenheim.

And below the list of galleries, find links to online collections of several hundred art books to read online or download. Continue to watch this space: We'll add to both of these lists as more and more collections come online.

Art Images from Museums & Libraries

Art Books

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in May 2016. It has since been updated to include more art from different museums.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch More Than 400 Classic Korean Films Free Online Thanks to the Korean Film Archive

Even if you don't know much about Korea, or indeed about film, it's safe to say that you know at least one Korean film: Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, which has circled the world gathering acclaim and awards since its release last spring. First it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Korean production to do so; more recently, it made film history even more dramatically at the Academy Awards. There it won Oscars not just for Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director, but also Best Picture, becoming the first non-English-language film to do so. For many viewers, Parasite and its director seem to have come out of nowhere, but lovers of Korean cinema know full well that they come out of a rich tradition — and a robust industry.

Maybe you thrilled to Bong's suspenseful, funny, and violent tale of class warfare as much as the Academy did. Maybe you've even seen the work of Bong's contemporaries: Park Chan-wook, he of the controversial hit Oldboy; the even more transgressive Kim Ki-duk; the prolific Hong Sangsoo, with his Woody Allen-meets-Éric Rohmer sensibility.




But do you know their sonsaengnimthe generations of Korean filmmakers who went before them? Now you can, no matter where in the world you are, on the Korean Film Archive's Youtube channel. There, at no charge, you can experience decades of Korean cinema and hundreds of works of Korean cinematic art, including but not limited to those of mid-20th-century masters like Kim Ki-young, Im Kwon-taek, and my personal favorite Kim Soo-yong, director of haunting, even brazen pictures of the 1960s and 70s like Mist and Night Journey.

I actually met the then-octogenarian Kim Soo-yong a few years ago, when he called me over to his table out of curiosity about what a foreigner was doing at a screening of Mist. It happened at the Korean Film Archive's cinematheque (known as Cinematheque KOFA) here in Seoul, where I've lived for the past few years. During that time I've also been writing a Korea Blog for the Los Angeles Review of Books, which occasionally features essays on the classic Korean films made available online by the Korean Film Archive. I began the series with Night Journey, and more recently have written up pictures like the 1960s neorealist cry of agony Aimless Bullet, the 1970s college-under-dictatorship comedy The March of Fools, the 1980s Westernization comedy Chil-su and Man-su, the 1990s food-sex-horror satirical mixture 301, 302, and others.

If you need more suggestions as to where to start with the KOFA's more than 400 free films online, pay a visit to the Korean Movie Database (KMDb), where KOFA regularly post selections from their catalog. This month's picks are "spy thriller films from the 1950s to 1970s infused with the anti-communist ideology during the time." Previous months have rounded up "melodramas that are filled with women’s desire and craving for love," films about "individual or family tragedies leading to historical tragedies," and "heart-warming classical movies all the family members can enjoy together." You can watch all these films either on the KMDb (which requires free registration) or on KOFA's ever-growing Youtube channel. Either way, as we say here in Korea, 재미있게 보세요.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library Makes 150,000 High-Res Illustrations of the Natural World Free to Download

You may have heard of "plant blindness," a condition defined about 20 years ago that has started to get more press in recent years. As its name suggests, it refers to an inability to identify or even notice the many plant species around us in our everyday lives. Some have connected it to a potentially more widespread affliction they call "nature deficit disorder," which is also just what it sounds like: a set of impairments brought on by insufficient exposure to the natural world. One might also draw a line from these concepts to our attitudes about climate change, or to our ever-less-interrupted immersion in the digital world. But if any part of that digital world can open our eyes to nature once again, it's the Biodiversity Heritage Library (present also on Flickr and Instagram.)

Previously featured here on Open Culture for its vast archive of two million illustrations of the natural world, the BHL has received more coverage this year for the more than 150,000 it's made available for copyright-free download. Hyperallergic's Hakim Bishara quotes Henry David Thoreau — "We need the tonic of wildness. We can never get enough of nature" — before writing of how thrilled Thoreau would have been by the existence of such a resource for images of nature.




These images include "animal sketches, historical diagrams, botanical studies, and scientific research collected from hundreds of thousands of journals and libraries across the world," some dating to the 15th century. He highlights "Joseph Wolf’s 19th-century book Zoological Sketches, containing about 100 lithographs depicting wild animals in London’s Regent’s Park" and "watercolors depicting flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands" as well as "an 1833 DIY Taxidermist’s Manual."

As Smithsonian.com's Theresa Machemer notes, "The practice of creating detailed illustrations of flora and fauna, whether to document an expedition or a medical practice, gained popularity well before photography was up to the task." Hence such ambitious projects as the United States government's commissioning, in 1866, of watercolor paintings depicting every fruit known to man. But even today, "an illustration can offer more clarity than a photograph," as you'll find when you zoom in on any of the BHL's high-resolution illustrations. According to the BHL, "a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries," its mission is to provide "access to the world’s collective knowledge about biodiversity," in order to help researchers "document Earth’s species and understand the complexities of swiftly-changing ecosystems in the midst of a major extinction crisis and widespread climate change." But by revealing how our predecessors saw nature, it can also help all of us see nature again. Access the illustrations here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Met Puts 650+ Japanese Illustrated Books Online: Marvel at Hokusai’s One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji and More

There are certain Japanese woodblock prints many of us can picture in our minds: Hokusai Katsushika's The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Utagawa Hiroshige's Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake, Kitagawa Utamaro's Three Beauties of the Present Day. Even when we find vast archives of such works, known as ukiyo-e or "pictures of the floating world," we tend to appreciate the works themselves one piece at a time; we imagine them on walls, not in books. But it was in books that much of the work of ukiyo-e masters first appeared in the first place. Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro, as the three are usually called, "are best known today for their woodblock prints, but also excelled at illustrations for deluxe poetry anthologies and popular literature."

So writes John Carpenter, Curator of the Department of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, describing the "fell swoop" in which the Met acquired "a superb collection of Japanese books to complement its excellent holdings in paintings and prints of the Edo period (1615–1868)." Once the personal collection of Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow, these books came into the museum's possession in 2013, and have now come available to browse on and even download from its web site.




Carpenter describes the collection as "particularly strong in works by ukiyo-e artists, but includes representative examples of all the various schools of Japanese art. Included in the collection of some 250 titles — more than 400 volumes — are numerous masterpieces of woodblock printing, many of which are nearly impossible to find in such fine condition today."

You'll find in the Met's online collection not just the volumes from the Vershbow collection, but "over 650 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japanese illustrated books" in total. Selections include editions of Utamaro's Gifts of the Ebb Tide (The Shell Book), Hiroshige's Picture Book of the Souvenirs of Edo (the name of Tokyo in his day), and Hokusai's One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji. You can also find books full of the work of ukiyo-e masters of whom you may not have heard, such as Katsukawa Shunshō's Mirror of Yoshiwara Beauties, Kitao Masanobu's A New Record Comparing the Handwriting of the Courtesans of the Yoshiwara, and Utagawa Kunisada's That Purple Image in Magic Lantern Shows. Though few of us today know Kunisada's name, in the early to mid-nineteenth century his popular reputation far exceeded those of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro — not least because of how many could enjoy his work in books like these. Enter the collection here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

36,000 Flash Games Have Been Archived and Saved Before Flash Goes Extinct: Play Them Offline

Adobe has announced that the Flash Player will come to the official end of its life on the last day of this year, December 31, 2020. News of the demise of an obsolete internet multimedia platform presumably bothers few of today's web-surfers, but those of us belonging to a certain generation feel in it the end of an era. First introduced by Macromedia in 1996, Flash made possible the kind of animation and sound we'd seldom seen and heard — assuming we could manage to load it through our sluggish connections at all — on the internet before. By the early 2000s, Flash seemed to power most everything fun on the internet, especially everything fun to the kids then in middle and high school who'd grown up alongside the World Wide Web.

Though now deep into adulthood, we all remember the hours of the early 21st century we happily whiled away on Flash games, racing cars, solving puzzles, shooting zombies, dodging comets, firing cannons, and piloting helicopters on classroom computers. We could, in theory, find many of these games and play them still today, but that may become impossible next year when all major web browsers will discontinue their support for Flash.




"That’s where Flashpoint comes in to save a huge chunk of gaming history," writes Kotaku's Zack Zwiezen. "Flashpoint uses open-source tech to allow folks to download and play a large list of games and animations. The full list contains just over 36,000 games and you can suggest new games to be added if something you love isn’t on here."

On Flashpoint's download page you'll find its full 290-gigabyte collection of Flash games, as well as a smaller version that only downloads games as you play them. "While Flash games might not be as impressive today, they are still an important part of gaming history," writes Zwiezen. "These small web games can be directly linked to the later rise of mobile and indie games and helped many creators get their feet wet with building and creating video games." In other words, the simple Flash amusements of our schooldays gave rise to the graphically and sonically intense games that we play so compulsively today. Now we have kids who play those sorts of games too, but who among us will initiate the next generation into the ways of Crush the Castle, Age of War, and Bubble Trouble?

You can find more information on the flash video game archive on this FAQ page.

via Kotaku

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

14 Paris Museums Put 300,000 Works of Art Online: Download Classics by Monet, Cézanne & More

First trips to Paris all run the same risk: that of the museums consuming all of one's time in the city. What those new to Paris need is a museum-going strategy, not that one size will fit all. Tailoring such a strategy to one's own interests and pursuits requires a sense of each museum's collection, something difficult to attain remotely before Paris Musées opened up its online collections portal.

There, a counter tracks the number of artworks from the museums of Paris digitized and uploaded for all the world to see, which as of this writing comes in at 321,055. 150,222 images, notes a counter below, are in the public domain, and below that, another counter reveals that the archive now contains 621,075 pieces of digital media in total.

Among these, writes Hyperallergic's Valentina Di Liscia, "masterpieces by renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix, and Anthony van Dyck, among many other familiar and lesser-known names, can now be accessed and enjoyed digitally."




She highlights "Paul Cézanne’s enchanting 1899 portrait of the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard," pictures taken by "Eugène Atget, the French photographer known for documenting and immortalizing old Paris," and Gustave Courbet’s Les demoiselles des bords de la Seine, which became "the subject of controversy at the Paris Salon of 1857 for what some deemed an indecorous and even sensual portrayal of working class women."

Paris Musées oversees the fourteen City of Paris Museums, including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Petit Palais as well as the Maison de Balzac and Maison de Victor Hugo. That last now has a virtual exhibition up called "Light and Shade," which, through the illustrations of Hugo's literary works, reveals the "frenzy of images that adorned 19th century literature," from "the blossoming of the romantic vignette, to the flood of popular editions, and the swansong of those collectors’ editions celebrating the glories of the Third Republic." The "thematic discovering" section of Paris Musées portal also features sections on caricatures of Victor Hugo, on the 18th century, on portraits, and on Paris in the year 1900, when Art Nouveau made it "the capital of Europe."

"Users can download a file that contains a high definition (300 DPI) image, a document with details about the selected work, and a guide of best practices for using and citing the sources of the image," writes Di Liscia. Shown here are Claude Monet Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver, Célestin Nanteuil's La Cour des Miracles, Léon Bonnat's Portrait de M. Victor Hugo, Cézanne’s Rochers et branches à Bibémus, and a postcard for the Exposition universelle de Paris 1889. These images are released under a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license, and "works still in copyright will be available as low definition files, so users can still get a feel for the museums’ collections online." Do bear in mind that Paris Musées does not have under its umbrella that most famous museum of all, the Louvre. If you're looking to get a feel for that world-renowned destination's formidable collection, you may just have to visit it — a cultural task that necessitates a battle plan of its own.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Names of 1.8 Million Emancipated Slaves Are Now Searchable in the World’s Largest Genealogical Database, Helping African Americans Find Lost Ancestors

The successes of the Freedman’s Bureau, initiated by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and first administered under Oliver Howard’s War Department, are all the more remarkable considering the intense popular and political opposition to the agency. Under Lincoln’s successor, impeached Southern Democrat Andrew Johnson, the Bureau at times became a hostile entity to the very people it was meant to aid and protect—the formerly enslaved, especially, but also poor whites devastated by the war. After years of defunding, understaffing, and violent insurgency the Freedman’s Bureau was officially dissolved in 1872.

In those first few years after emancipation, however, the Bureau built several hospitals and over a thousand rural schools in the South, established the Historically Black College and University system, and “created millions of records,” notes the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), “that contain the names of hundreds of thousands of formerly enslaved individuals and Southern white refugees.” Those records have enabled historians to reconstruct the lives of people who might otherwise have disappeared from the record and helped genealogists trace family connections that might have been irrevocably broken.




As we noted back in 2015, those records have become part of a digitization project named for the Bureau and spearheaded by the Smithsonian, the National Archives, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world. “Using modern, digital and web-based technology and the power of [over 25,000!] volunteers,” says Hollis Gentry, a genealogical specialist at the NMAAHC, the Freedman’s Bureau Project “is unlocking information from a transformative era in the history of African American families and the American nation.”

That information is now available to the general public, “globally via the web” here, as of June 20th, 2016, allowing “all of us to enlarge our understanding of the past.” More specifically, the Freedman’s Bureau Project and FamilySearch allows African Americans to recover their family history in a database that now includes “the names of nearly 1.8 million men, women and children” recorded by Freedman’s Bureau workers and entered by Freedman’s Bureau Project volunteers 150 years later. This incredible database will give millions of people descended from both former slaves and white Civil War refugees the ability to find their ancestors.

There’s still more work to be done. In collaboration with the NMAAHC, the Smithsonian Transcription Center is currently relying on volunteers to transcribe all of the digital scans provided by FamilySearch. “When completed, the papers will be keyword searchable. This joint effort will help increase access to the Freedmen’s Bureau collection and help the public learn more about the United States in the Reconstruction Era,” a critical time in U.S. history that is woefully underrepresented or deliberately whitewashed in textbooks and curricula.

“The records left by the Freedmen's Bureau through its work between 1865 and 1872 constitute the richest and most extensive documentary source available for investigating the African American experience in the post-Civil War and Reconstruction eras,” writes the National Archives. Soon, all of those documents will be publicly available for everyone to read. For now, those with roots in the U.S. South can search the Freedman’s Bureau Project database to discover more about their family heritage and history.

And while the Smithsonian’s transcription project is underway, those who want to learn more can visit the Freedman’s Bureau Online, which has transcribed hundreds of documents, including labor records, narratives of “outrages committed on freedmen," and marriage registers.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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