Exhibits on demand: Amid coronavirus pandemic, museums offer virtual tours

By Nick Fortuna

Even though much of America is stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s still possible to escape to the Southeast, if only in your mind.

The region’s 12 states offer some of the finest museums anywhere in the world, providing a wide range of educational and cultural opportunities. Through virtual tours, online “visitors” can get an up-close view of interesting exhibits without braving the crowds, spending money, traveling or having to find parking. It’s a chance to feast your eyes and feed your brain the no-hassles way.

Here’s a state-by-state rundown of virtual museum exhibits that just might inspire you to visit in person when things get back to normal.

Alabama The Birmingham Museum of Art houses more than 25,000 works from around the globe and has made a small sample of its paintings, sculptures and other pieces available online. Separate galleries showcase works from Italy, the United States, China and France, as well as some of the collection’s top canvas paintings.

The National Voting Rights Museum in Selma offers “Voting Milestones,” an exhibit of photographs and other artifacts from the suffrage movement and the struggle for more-diverse representation in Washington.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee offers a virtual tour of the facility, the only primary flight facility for black pilot candidates in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, instructors and maintenance and support staff, all part of the Tuskegee Experiment, the Army Air Corps program to train blacks to fly and maintain combat aircraft.

Arkansas – There’s something for everyone in “State of the Art 2020,” a new exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. The exhibit showcases a diverse group of 61 artists at varied points in their careers. More than 100 pieces are on display, most created in the last three years, including paintings, sculpture, photography, video, performance and mixed media.

Another exhibit, “All Things Being Equal,” features more than 90 pieces of work from conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, known for combining familiar images from sports, advertising, art and politics to examine pop culture and the ongoing struggle for social justice. Works include photographs, sculptures and mixed media. The artist has pieces in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
Other online galleries include “Winter Scene in Brooklyn,” which explores the world of 1820s Brooklyn, N.Y., through the eyes of artist Francis Guy.

Florida – Discover two underappreciated women artists through exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.

“About to Happen” is the first major U.S. solo exhibition for Cecilia Vicuña, the influential Chilean-born artist, and includes multidisciplinary work in performance, sculpture, drawing, video, text and site-specific installations created over 40 years. Her work is included in the collections of the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Gallery in London and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Chile.

“Poetic Invocations” features the work of Alice Rahon, a French-Mexican surrealist painter, and is guest curated by Mexico City-based art historian Tere Arcq. Rahon exhibited regularly in Mexico, New York and California and had solo shows in Paris and Lebanon. Her last solo exhibition took place in 1986 in Mexico City, a year before her death. This marks the first solo show dedicated to Rahon’s work in the United States since her exhibition at the Louisiana Gallery in Houston in 1964.

‘Next Morning’ Alice Rahon

GeorgiaThe High Museum of Art in Atlanta has one of the largest collections of photographs of the civil rights movement and is making more than 300 of them available online. “Photos From the Civil Rights Movement” documents the social protest movement, from the arrest of Rosa Parks to the Freedom Rides to the tumultuous demonstrations of the late 1960s. Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., figures prominently in the collection.

Also on display are “Bill Traylor’s Drawings of People, Animals and Events,” showcasing some of the more than 1,200 drawings produced by Traylor, who was born into slavery on a plantation in Alabama. After emancipation, he became a laborer, and when he was physically unable to continue, he lived on the streets of Montgomery, Ala., spending his days sitting on the sidewalk and creating art. Many of his drawings are of people he saw on Monroe Avenue in a black enclave of the city.

Kentucky – The Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort presents “A World War II Odyssey: Lt. Kenneth G. Maddox’s Journey from Louisville to Luxembourg.” The online exhibit follows the Louisville native to the front lines in France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. Maddox was gravely injured when he selflessly shielded his gun crew from a surprise burst of machine gun fire and became a prisoner of war, eventually dying from his wounds in a German military hospital. He was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.

The KHS also has added a new “virtual visitor” page to its website, providing access to virtual field trips, videos, media links, activities, catalogs and research tools. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m., the museum is offering virtual tours of its campus and exhibit spaces on the KHS Facebook page. Viewers can ask questions in real time in the comments section and get answers from staff who are leading the tours.

Louisiana – The Amistad Research Center in New Orleans, chronicling America’s ethnic and racial history, the African Diaspora and the civil rights movement, has a number of online exhibits available, including “Tom Dent: 20th Century Renaissance Man.” Dent was one of New Orleans’s most treasured poets, playwrights and oral historians and was an active participant in the Black Arts Movement, according to the museum.

Other exhibits include a tribute to the Free Southern Theater, started in 1964 as an integrated drama workshop at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Co-founded by field directors for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Jackson, Miss., the FST would serve as the foundation for a visual and literary arts movement that would permeate the South in the 1960s and 1970s. Separately, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra is making photographs and video content, including selected concert performances and rehearsals, available online in “The World of Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.”  

Mississippi – The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi was designed by architect Frank O. Gehry as a tribute to the ceramic art of local potter George E. Ohr, who died in 1918. The “Ohr Pottery” online exhibit showcases some of the artist’s finest work, including novelty inkwells that he sold to tourists to support his family. Ohr displayed his pottery at several world fairs, including the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895.
The museum also presents “My House: The Pleasant Reed Story,” a tour of the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center. The building is a reconstruction of the original house built by former slave Pleasant Reed in the late 19th century and destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The home originally had only three rooms; the kitchen was completely detached from the house until around 1910, when the city was connected to a public water supply.

North Carolina – The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh has a collection spanning more than 5,000 years, from ancient Egypt to the present, making it one of the premier art museums in the Southeast. Its online exhibits include canvas paintings by Claude Monet and Anthony van Dyck, paintings by American artists from the early 19th and 20th centuries and oil paintings from the 16th century.

The Tryon Palace in New Bern offers a virtual tour of its facility, originally completed in 1770 as North Carolina’s first permanent capitol and razed by fire in 1798. The building was rebuilt from 1952-59 and now features the governor’s palace, a kitchen office, a stable office and surrounding gardens. The exhibit “Faces of New Bern” shows portraits of the Stanly family, whose home is part of Tryon Palace. John Wright Stanly was a prominent merchant who helped to acquire supplies for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

South Carolina – The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, opened to the public in 1905, allows visitors to explore stories of the South through paintings, sculpture, photographs and more. The museum’s permanent collection consists of more than 10,000 works, principally American with a Charleston or Southern connection.

The museum has made a sizeable portion of its collection available online, including exhibits focusing on 18th and 19th century American paintings and sculpture, 20th century American regionalism and the Charleston Renaissance, Southern women artists, British sporting art, miniature portraits and modern and contemporary art.

The visiting artist in early April was Charleston native Andrea Hazel, who uses watercolors to paint “the beauty and color in our world and its people, especially in the South Carolina Lowcountry, as I experience them with my eyes and within my heart.”

Other online exhibits include paintings of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, a Revolutionary War battle near Charleston in 1776, by Henry Gray, portraits by Charles Fraser and landscape paintings by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith.

‘Peepin’ Andrea Hazel

Tennessee – The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville presents a two-part series, “Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm and Blues 1945-1970,” which it bills as “a story about a musically rich but little-known chapter in the evolution of Nashville as Music City.” In one photograph from the 1950s, The Five Satins, best known for their hit “In the Still of the Night,” perform for an all-white crowd at War Memorial Auditorium. Blacks had to attend a separate concert.

“I Can’t Stop Loving You: Ray Charles and Country Music” is another two-part exhibit, focusing on the legendary singer’s contributions to country music. Rounding out the exhibits is “Kitty Wells: Queen of Country Music,” a tribute to the first woman to have a No. 1 song on Billboard’s country-and-western chart with her 1952 hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”

Virginia – The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk boasts a collection of more than 30,000 pieces, including one of the great glass collections in America. Its online gallery of modern art features several works by Pablo Picasso, Edouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Other online exhibits focus on sculptures, scenes of life in the early United States, modernism and contemporary art.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has made a small portion of its 70,000-piece collection available online, including fine, decorative, mechanical and folk art. The works include American and British ceramics, glass, furniture, textiles, costumes, tools, firearms, numismatics, metals, toys, prints, maps, paintings, drawings and architectural elements from the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.

Many of these objects are used to furnish more than 200 rooms in Williamsburg’s historic buildings, giving guests a better understanding of life in colonial Virginia, while others are displayed at either the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum or the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

‘Scene in Omar, WV’ Ben Shahn

West Virginia – The Huntington Museum of Art has an extensive permanent collection, including American and European paintings, prints, and sculpture; contemporary and natural history prints; studio and decorative glass; ceramics; folk art; Asian decorative objects; Haitian art; Peruvian pottery; and prayer rugs. The museum also features permanent installations of Near Eastern art and artifacts, antique firearms and a decorative arts/glass gallery.

The museum’s website allows visitors to search for specific pieces by keyword or view galleries broken down by country and region.

The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History in Charleston has a robust selection of online exhibits, including “The Omar Project: Not a Simple Story.” It’s an exhibit of 20 black-and-white photographs of everyday life in Omar, situated in Logan County, along with background information. These photos were taken from 1935-38 by photographers employed by the federal government under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, according to the museum.