While parts of the world are slowly emerging from hibernation, the easing of the lockdown and various quarantine enforcements are understandably slow when it comes to travel and public attractions such as museums. It was heartening to experience — and write about — the best virtual museum experiences in the 10 most-visited countries in the world. They gave the travel-starved public a way of learning and seeing some amazing displays that otherwise would have involved much planning, queuing, and travel. But virtual is just that, not real, and as excellent as some of these virtual exhibitions are, being there in real life means experiencing an exhibition so much more intensely.
The good news is that more and more museums and art galleries are forging ahead and have now opened to the mask-wearing public, some even implementing new tech to help keep museum visitors safe. All these efforts are allowing people to have a day out, soaking up some much-needed culture and enjoying exhibitions that are not virtual.
The selection is still meager, but that does not make it any less enjoyable. And the best thing of all is that you can not only experience other countries, cultures, and art, but you can also travel in time while you are there. All by popping into an art museum.
Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH)
The first art museum in the U.S. to open again after a lengthy closure, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston offers several great exhibitions to see in person.
1. Glory Of Spain: Treasures From The Hispanic Society Museum And Library
This exhibit invites you to see treasures ranging from antiquity to the early 20th century thanks to the Hispanic Society Museum and Library in New York. The exhibit focuses on Hispanic art and culture with pieces from Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and as far as the Philippines.
2. Through An African Lens: Sub-Saharan Photography
Travel from Benin to Zimbabwe through fantastic photographs — all part of MFAH’s collection — taken by African artists, telling of their lives, identity, culture, politics, and dreams.
3. Francis Bacon: Late Paintings
This exhibit brings together some 40 canvases by the intriguing artist, allowing a look at his work completed during the last two decades of his life, from 1971 to 1991.
4. Radical: Italian Design 1965 To 1985
Witness some truly eccentric interior decor, architectural models, and art examining Italy’s postwar explosion of disruptive design.
Pro Tips: The wearing of masks is obligatory, as are temperature checks upon arrival. If you have not booked an online ticket, please note that the museum will only accept payments by credit card. The MFAH museum cafe remains closed.
San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA)
5. The Arts of China’s Educated Elite, 1400 To 1900
Travel to China with this exhibition, which allows you a glimpse into the appreciation of rocks by the Chinese literati. The 26 pieces of art include objects of gold and silver, jade carvings, paintings and calligraphy, ceramics, and more, all telling the story of rock connoisseurship.
This exhibition goes hand in hand with the 6.5-ton Taihu Rock which, in 2019, found a new home in the museum’s gardens.
6. Texas Women: A New History Of Abstract Art
If rocks are not your thing, this exhibit brings together 59 works of Texas women. Displays include paintings, drawings, installations, and sculpture.
7. America’s Impressionism: Echoes Of A Revolution
Gain insight into the works of French-trained American impressionists who featured distinctly American subjects and scenes.
Pro Tips: Book a ticket online to secure a spot. The Tre Trattoria restaurant is open to visitors, but again, with limited spaces, it’s best to reserve a table for an alfresco Italian lunch on the terrace overlooking the river.
Boca Raton Museum Of Art, Boca Raton, Florida
8. Phyllis Galembo: Maske
A very apt exhibition for these times as it will be viewed by art lovers wearing masks, this exhibit is a look at color photography of African subjects who are wearing masks. The exhibition is on the second floor, appropriately next to the exhibition of African masks.
9. Eye To I: Self Portraits From The National Portrait Gallery
This interesting collection of “selfies” (paintings, drawings, photographs, and moving pictures) by American artists is from the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
10. Edward Steichen: In Exaltation Of Flowers
For art nouveau lovers, this exhibit showcases seven 10-foot-tall murals that Steichen painted for a private Park Avenue address but were never installed.
Pro Tips: In line with social distancing measures, the museum has new opening hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday the museum is closed.
Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland
11. Outdoor Sculpture Collection
This private contemporary art museum has the distinct advantage of nestling in carefully maintained natural grounds, with 300 acres of trails, streams, meadows, and forest, all dotted with superb modern architecture and outdoor art installations. While the indoor exhibitions are still off-limits for the moment, the trip to these carefully monitored terrains with its wildflowers and organic landscaping is worth it for its walks alone, but the sculptures by artists such as Charles Ray, Tony Smith, Michael Heizer, Robert Gober, Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Goldsworthy, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jeff Koons, Janet Cardiff, and George Bures Miller enhance the experience enormously.
From a gigantic flower-studded Jeff Koons piece reminiscent of the Puppy in Bilbao, Spain, to the bare yet enthralling metal stretches by Richard Serra, who seems to have a knack for enhancing the plainest landscape by seemingly even plainer pieces of rusty metal, this is a perfect art experience for social distancing times.
Pro Tips: Despite this being an outdoor experience, timed tickets should be purchased before arrival, and groups should not be larger than five people. Also note that the bathrooms are closed and plan your visit accordingly.
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist, the Andy Warhol Museum holds an extensive collection of artworks by this Pittsburgh-born pop artist. Constantly creating new ways of exhibiting the pieces in its permanent collection, there is always a new way to look at Warhol’s work.
12. Femme Touch
The museum’s latest exhibition looks at the women and femmes who have touched Warhol’s life, from his mother to transgender friends, muses to colleagues. The museum is intent on starting a conversation with and among visitors through the artworks set in the large spaces of the rooms.
Pro Tips: The museum opens to members on June 26 and the general public on June 29. Visitors and staff are asked to wear masks, and access is limited to 25 percent of the normal traffic. It is best to book a timed ticket.
The Cleveland Museum Of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
The Cleveland Museum of Art has a number of exhibitions opening to the public on June 30.
13. PROOF: Photography In The Era Of The Contact Sheet
This exhibit features some 180 works and examples of the tiny sample photographs by notable photographers such as Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Harry Benson, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Philippe Halsman, Irving Penn, and Albert Watson.
14. Ilse Bing: Queen Of The Leica
The museum’s Ilse Bing exhibit concentrates on the German-born artist who first made a name for herself in the 1930s in Paris as a fashion photographer.
15. Tiffany Lamps And Embroidery Arts
There will be an exhibition of the iconic stained-glass Tiffany lamps and embroidery arts from Korea.
16. A Graphic Revolution: Prints And Drawings In Latin America
This exhibit showcases a vast selection of prints and drawings from across Latin America, created during the last 100 years.
Pro Tip: For the moment, the restaurant and cafe, all water fountains, the store, and the ARTLENS Gallery as well as the museum’s library remain closed.
Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, Kansas
The Wichita Art Museum, which specializes in and holds an outstanding collection of American art, is outdoing others by offering a myriad of exhibitions to art-starved visitors.
17. Pacific Northwest Tlingit Story Of Raven
Enjoy an exhibition that tells the Pacific Northwest Tlingit story of Raven, the white bird who brought light to the world.
18. Stories And Images Of The American West
An exhibit that showcases the American West is also on display, highlighting a selection of favorite pieces from the museum’s collection, and proving that it has something for anyone who is interested in American art, craft, and history.
Pro Tip: On weekdays, the first hour the museum is open, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, is reserved for seniors (ages 55 and older) and visitors who are immune-suppressed.
Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), Manitoba, Canada
WAG is one of the leading museums in Canada and is the first to reopen. It holds some 27,000 pieces of art and is currently preparing to inaugurate the WAG Inuit Art Centre, which will be the largest collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world. Current exhibitions include:
19. James Webb’s Prayer, The Chicago Version
This interactive sound installation brings together prayers from a plethora of faiths, and it is up to the visitor to combine their favorites.
20. Into The Light
This exhibition features works by Winnipeg artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, one of the Group of Seven.
21. Small Worlds
This is one of a couple of WAG exhibitions on Inuit carvings. It showcases some 100 miniature carvings that are just exquisite in their detail.
Pro Tips: While social distancing measures are in place, the wearing of masks is not obligatory at WAG. During the construction of the Inuit Art Centre, the cafe is closed, but complimentary drinks are available to visitors.
Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
22. Offsite: Erwin Wurm
This exhibit gives you a chance to see the light-hearted and quirky work of the Vienna-based artist.
23. Rapture, Rhythm And The Tree Of Life: Emily Carr And Her Female Contemporaries
The gallery has curated selected works by Emily Carr and other 20th-century women artists from British Columbia for this exhibit.
24. Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds
Experience the drawings of Inuk artist Shuvinai Ashoona, who has created fantastical drawings of scenes from her homeland.
Pro Tip: The free Vancouver Art Gallery app (available for both Apple and Android) allows you to access additional information, audio guides, video interviews, and more.