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Tour the Louvre Without Leaving Home

by Amy Benavides

Copyright 1999 Amy Benavides. All rights reserved.

After moving to Okinawa, one of the southernmost prefectures in Japan, I would wistfully look at the Saturday Stars & Stripesto see what exhibitions were coming to museums in Tokyo. I had just spent five years in Washington, D.C., with all of its galleries at my disposal, and was having a hard time adjusting to the few small museums on Okinawa. Once, when I saw that a Klimt exhibit was planned at the Tokyo Edo Museum, I even called a travel agent to check on the prices of flights for a quick weekend trip to see it, but in the end I didn't pay $400 for the flight to see an exhibit I'd already seen in Vienna.

My yearnings for a wider range of art than is available on the small island I live on were about to be fulfilled in a new way. One day while researching Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, I stumbled onto a Web site called Baka-san: A California Buddhist Artist. One of Baka-san's paintings was of a geisha, so his Web page had popped up in my search for information about them. His site was one of the best I have seen (of course it doesn't hurt that he is an artist) and his artwork was colorful and intriguing in a mysterious way. It didn't even take as long as I thought it might to load all of his artwork, using my three-year-old Pentium. I was immediately hooked on art online.

Not that looking up art was a hard sell for me; I had vacillated between art and English degrees in college (to the consternation of my parents) and I own many art books. I started to look for useful and particularly interesting sites. The Artchive was listed as a page about Van Gogh, but turned out to be a list of all the major painters throughout history, with interesting information about the artists and their major works.

Another very useful page to see before you jump into the big art world online is ArtLex, which has more than 1,700 terms that are defined and illustrated, as well as quotations and links to other resources. FineArt Forum Resource Directory is a compilation of more than 1,000 art resources.

Now that you know the basics about art, you can start to check out the museums you have always heard about (and some that you haven't). The Web page put together by The Art Institute of Chicago is very impressive and substantial. The museum's collections alone include African and Amerindian Art, American Arts, Architecture, Asian Art, Classical Art, European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, European Painting, and Textiles. It also has books and multimedia, exhibitions, libraries and archives, and a museum shop (a great place to look for unique gifts), to name some of the options this site offers. You could spend hours just exploring the art displayed in their collections alone. This is an immensely informative and engrossing museum Web page.

The Chrysler Museum is one of the museums you may not have heard of before. In fact, I thought that it was a museum of cars and the history of the car, which didn't interest me. But don't let the name fool you; this was the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences from 1933 to 1971 when it was renamed in honor of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., to express appreciation for his contributions to all collections of the museum. This museum is actually home to American and European paintings and sculptures, extensive glass, photograph, and decorative arts collections, and a museum library. If you want to plan a trip to see the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, you can access information about school and adult programs, the gift shop, and even use the information they provide to plan your trip to the museum.

Famous museums are on the Web, however, such as The Hirschhorn, a well-known museum with a site that primarily has a list of some of the items that are on display. As you may know, the museum building itself is considered a piece of art in its own right, and a few views of (and from) the museum are included on the home page. An impressive page is run by the Dallas Museum of Art, home to collections from Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia; it gives in-depth information about the artists and each artist's subject. The especially interesting historical background of the piece is one of the reasons I recommend this site. The University of Montana Museum of Fine Arts offers various art mediums for you to explore, but I especially recommend looking at the paintings collection, which includes artist biographies and descriptions of each painting. Both the Dallas and Montana museum sites have so much to offer that you may need an afternoon to peruse the art in just one of the sites.

Located in Canberra, Australia, between Sydney and Melbourne, is a museum with an original Web site, the National Gallery of Australia. The site is visually impressive, but more importantly you are given quite a bit of information in an easy-to-read format. Besides the art that the gallery has in its collections and expects to have in its exhibitions, the Gallery has an impressive learning program. In September, for instance, six of the Dalai Lama's monks from the Gyuto Tantric University in Northern India will be in residence. They will create a sand mandala (a Hindu or Buddhist graphic symbol of the universe) and give workshops on art, chanting and meditation; in addition, they will hold a special session for children that will focus on Tibetan culture.

It is only fitting that one of the most famous museums in the world has one of the best Web sites. Anything else would have been a disappointment from the museum that was forward-thinking enough to include a controversial glass triangular building by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei in what had been a traditional courtyard. The Louvre has an incredible site that you will want to set a lot of time aside to visit. Some information, such as the tours and the museum's magazine, are only in French, but most of the site is in English. This is a great learning tool for children and adults, and is set up well.

Continuing our tour of the museums of Europe, we come to another famous museum, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. This site is interesting, but slower than others and it does not have a lot of information about the artists, but rather information about the history of the gallery, the buildings, and news, including a list of what was damaged in the terrorist bombing of the gallery on May 27, 1993.

Heading further north, you'll find The Finnish National Gallery, or at least their Web site. This gallery has three primary collections, Sinebrychoff, The Museum of Foreign Art; Ateneum, the Museum of Finnish Art; and Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Once you choose a collection, you then choose the type of art and artist about whom you are interested in finding more information. This is a very "art school" type of Web page with a lot of architecture in the first few pages of the site.

If I didn't list your local museum or favorite museum, try looking for it online using a search engine. You might find it if you do a search; more museums are trying out Web sites to bring in patrons.

Once you have seen all you want at the large museums' sites (and you could spend days exploring all of the museums), you might want to see the work of individual or contemporary artists, like Baka-san, who started my journey to art online. If you are still interested in the old masters, then there is a site you should see. Paintings of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) includes his famous works as well as the history about each piece. I was once sternly warned by a guard at the National Gallery of Art that I was too close to a Vermeer painting; viewing his paintings online is a much more relaxing way of looking at his work.

Another site dedicated to a famous person's work is the Diego Rivera Web Museum. This is a very artsy site with information about the artist, his work, and many reproductions of his work. The backgrounds alone on the site are enough to make the link.

A famous contemporary artist with a sophisticated and impressive site is Bradley J. Parrish. His unique self-taught style is well known, and you can learn about pieces that are coming up for sale, as well as about pieces that already are for sale. The sales tactics on this page are subtle, which can't be said for every site where pieces are sold. In other words, you can still enjoy his work without being distracted by the sales.

TheSusan Spencer's Watercolors site is as relaxing as her works, which are all for sale. Don't let the fact that her pieces are for sale stop you from "just looking." If you can just look in a store, you can just look for a much longer period of time when you are online. You even have a chair, so you can stay as long as you like.

Smaller online galleries are appearing online, such as World Art Gallery Presents Artists in Japan, which currently features three Japanese artists and their work, and whose collection changes often. Artists' Corner is dedicated to the colorful art of Haiti and its collectors (including director Jonathon Demme, who is said to have the largest individual collection of Haitian art in the world). The last page that I am going to recommend, although it is by no means the last site you can find online, is World's Women Online, an electronic art networking project originally established to be presented at the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995. The online exhibition is a companion to the traveling museum that is appearing in major cities internationally.

So get comfortable and start exploring the art world around you. Using these sites as a starting point you'll be able to explore museums that you never knew existed, but will be glad you discovered. Besides, you can tell your coworkers on Monday morning that you spent the weekend at the Louvre.

Amy Benavides was recently able to visit Tokyo and see the museums she had read about in the Stars & Stripes. She will visit the museums in Hong Kong in May, but until then she'll continue to explore art online.


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