How can we talk about identity? Fun activities to teach online about heritage and art

Museums are more than repositories of treasures and material culture. What a museum has in their collections, as well as the things they decide to showcase, say something about the way a society understands the past, and what an institution thinks about other countries or cultures. Although visiting museums in different parts of the world have been restricted for a while, and there may be some limitations when museums start to open again, we do have access to online resources to visit the collection of the most important ones in the Western world.

A good activity to do online to learn about your culture and your past, is to visit Museum online resources, and find out what objects different museums possess, and what can we gather from what is available and what is shown. Here are some links to collections of important museums in the United States and Europe:

Webpages of Museums with online collection to visit

I have chosen nine museums with great online platforms that show their collections, not only what is being displayed, but what is property of each museum. This is not an exhaustive list, and more suggestions can be added in the future.

Metropolitan Museum of New York, USA

Photograph by Mike Peel (2017) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

Largest museum in the United States, it was the fourth most visited museum in the world in 2019. The permanent collection as over two million artworks divided among 17 curatorial departments.

The permanent collection has pieces from classical antiquity, ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures of European masters, as well as a collection of American and modern art.

Press here for the Met’s search web page.

British Museum of London, UK

Photograph by Eric Pouhier (2009) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

Sourced widely during the era of the British Empire, this museum’s permanent collection has around eight million objects, documenting the story of human culture from its beginning until the present. The British Museum was the first public national museum in the world.

A lot of the pieces in the collection have been part of controversies due to the way in which they were acquired, and the British Museum continues to assert that it is an appropriate custodian and has an inalienable right to its disputed artefacts under British law.

Press here for the British’s search web page.

Tate Network, of the United Kingdom

Photograph by CVB (2019) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

The Tate is a network of four art museums, and has the United Kingdom’s national collection of British art, international modern and contemporary art, from 1500’s. The collection has all media from painting, drawing, sculpture and prints, to photography, video and films, installation and performance.

The collection consists of over 66.000 objects by over 3.000 artists, and it is displayed in four different facilities: Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives.

Press here for the Tate’s search web page.

MoMA of New York, United States

Photograph by Panoramio (2007) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

The Museum of Modern Art has played a major role in developing and collecting modern art, and it has been considered as one of the largest and most influential museums of modern art in the world. It has an overview of contemporary art which include architecture and design, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books and artist’s books, film, and electronic media.

The MoMA’s collection hold over 200.000 works, from a period spanning the last 150 years. The website features more than 83.000 artworks f over 26.000 artists.

Press here for the MoMA’S search web page.

Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain

Photograph by Osvaldo Gago (2005) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

The Prado Museum is the main Spanish national art museum and is considered to have one of the world’s finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 20th century. It is based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and is considered the single best collection of Spanish art.

The collection has around 8.200 drawings, 7.600 paintings, 4.800 prints and 1.000 sculptures, among other works and historic documents. It has the artworks of many important European painters, as well as some pieces done in the former Spanish colonies.

Press here for the Prado’s search web page. Please notice the link will redirect you to the search in Spanish.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, USA

The Philadelphia Museum of Arts was chartered in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and every year it has held several special exhibitions, is currently on the top one hundred most visited art museums in the world, and is one of the largest art museums in the world based on the gallery space.

The collection houses more than 240.000 objects; among them there are 150.000 prints, drawings and photographs, along with 30.000 costume and textile pieces, as well as over 1.000 modern and contemporary design objects. The objects are from different parts of the world, such as China, Japan, India, Korea, Turkey, among others, as well as rare architectural assemblages such as a Chinese palace hall, a Japanese teahouse, and a 16th-century Indian temple hall.

Press here for the museum’s search web page.

Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA

Photograph by Aschulkins (2014) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

The MFA is part of the 20th largest museums in the world, when measured by public gallery area, and considered one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas.

With more than 450.000 works of art, it is only surpassed in its own country by the Metropolitan Museum. Among the collection, there ancient Egypt artifacts, Dutch paintings, French impressionists and Chinese paintings, among others.

Press here for the MFA’s search web page.

Centre Pompidou in Paris, France

Photograph by Suicasmo (2017) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

Designed with high-tech architecture, it houses a vast public library, the National Museum of Modern Art, and IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research.

Considered one of the largest collections in Europe, the Pompidou Centre holds around 120.000 pieces, from the 20th and 21st century.

Press here for the Pompidou’s search web page.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain

Photograph by Nemo (2020) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

The MNCARS is Spain’s national museum of the 20th century art, and it’s located on the Golden Triangle of Art in Madrid, which also comprises de Prado Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.

The collection holds around 30.000 pieces, that have 4.100 paintings, over 1.700 sculptures, almost 3.600 paintings, 5.500 stamps, 4.230 photographies, 120 installations and almost 40 videos, among others. From those, only a 5% is exhibited.

Press here for the Reina Sofia’s search web page, which is organised by collections.

The Louvre Museum in Paris, France

Photopgrah by Arunkumar Vijayan (2019) licensed under Creative Commons. Source here.

The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument of Paris and is the most visited in the world.

It has approximately 38.000 objects that range from pre-historic times to the 21st century; it contains about 460,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments: Egyptian antiquities; Near Eastern antiquities; Greet, Etruscan, and Roman; Islamic art; sculpture; decorative arts; painting and prints and drawings.

Press here for the museum’s search web page. Please notice you can mainly see the pieces via the virtual tours and room descriptions.

What questions can we do to learn with the online tours of museums

Pose yourself a question about your country in big museums

  1. Why are there no objects from my country, and what do you think should be there?
  2. Are there any objects from your country?
  3. What kind of objects did you find?

Propose yourself a question about a specific museum

  1. How do you think these objects made it to these museums?
  2. What section of the collection is bigger and why?
  3. What is the oldest and the latest piece in a museum? What does that tell you of the museum?

Find out about a topic you like, find paintings

  1. Do you like cubism? How is cubism represented in each museum?
  2. Can I compare Egyptian coffins from different museums?
  3. What can I learn about history from these collections?

Online visits vs. physical visits to museums.

  1. What are the positive things of visiting a museum online?
  2. For what things it would be better to visit a museum physically?
  3. Which one do you prefer?
  4. What are the pros and cons of each platform?

The importance of watching the online collections is that we have access in a lot of cases, not only to what is showcased, but different objects that we may have not had an opportunity in the past to observe. There are many decisions made behind every physical exhibition, as to what a museum is granting value to, but all material culture can be a vehicle of knowledge, and we can rearrange it to our needs when we have access to more information.

Author: laverias an anthropologist interested in art history, Latin American art, and sustainable practices. You will find her trying to pick up some free furniture from the street and re-purposing old fabric. Spanglish speaker.

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