May 6th, 2020, 10:11 AM

The Guggenheim Tests Positive For Virtuality

By Adriana Alonso
Guggenheim Museum, New York City
Guggengeim Museum, image credit: Unsplash / Leslie Holder
How deeply can we explore museums from our own homes?

During what feels like an endless confinement, I decided to make a list of many things I wanted to do in Paris as soon as we were allowed to go out. Apart from shops, bars, and restaurants, there were many museums on my checklist. Living in Paris, it is easy to take them for granted, but it wasn’t until the lockdown that I realized I should have gone to some museums sooner. My mom, who has not stopped sending me online workout routines, cooking classes, and all those other things that keep popping up for those of us who try to stay productive during these times, she also sent me a list of museums that have now created virtual tours. I was instantly curious to see whether these were actually good and could compensate for the feeling of visiting an actual museum. I decided to check out a virtual tour for a museum I was already familiar with in order to compare a virtual visit vs. a real-life one. 

Guggenheim Museum in New York City, image credit: Unsplash / Thomas Eidsvold

The Guggenheim in New York has always been one of my favorite museums. Besides the wonderful exhibits they always have, the buildings spiral-like architecture reduced the slight anxiety some museums give me in terms of the layout of the rooms. In big museums, many rooms lead to several other rooms, which makes me feel like I could eventually miss some spots as I work my way through the museum. I hope I’m not the only one, but I hate this feeling. I was now looking to explore if navigating the virtual Guggenheim, available on Google Arts & Culture, was as fun and easy as doing it in real life. 

Screenshot of the Guggenheim virtual tour

The first function the website offers is to visit five different exhibits individually. The page offers very interesting and useful information about the exhibits, along with pictures of the work presented. However, there are no interactive functions whatsoever, which kind of leaves the experience on the same level of simply googling an artist or artwork you like. It really did not compare at all to visiting an actual museum. No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia, one of the available exhibitions, gives very interesting insights on a video by artist Reza Afisina. Unfortunately, the video is not available on the website. It ends up feeling like you’re reading about an exhibition; not like you visited it.

Screenshot of the Guggenheim virtual tour

The second function is to see individual art pieces as images. The website allows us to see the 208 available artworks, sorted in three different ways: by popularity, in chronological order, or by color palette. I enjoyed this feature the most. Even though it is not the same as seeing art pieces in person, the sorting feature is something a visitor would not be able to do at a physical museum.

Screenshot of the Guggenheim virtual tour

The final feature this Google-powered website offers is to explore the building through a 3D Google Map. Although it is the most effective way I can think of to explore the museum virtually, the constant clicking and dragging that has to be done to move the view are quite tedious, in my opinion. However, it does allow you to quickly move through the 6 floors of the building. As I mentioned before, what I believe is the Guggenheim’s best feature is the building itself. Although the virtual tour is nothing in comparison to the real deal, I do believe that for those who have never been, it gives an accurate, rough idea of what it looks and feels like on the inside.

Screenshot of the Guggenheim virtual tour

At least for the Guggenheim, I can say a virtual visit does it no justice. If you care about finding new artwork or artists, this virtual museum visit could be a great source. On the other hand, if you’re looking to replace a real visit with a virtual one, I would tell people to expect more if they ever get the chance to visit. After looking through other museum virtual tours like the Museé d’Orsay, and the National Gallery of Art, they had the same format as the Guggenheim. However, more online exploring is on my bucket list since I a quick peep of the Thysen-Bornemisza seemed to follow a different, more interactive format. 


Regardless of what could have been improved, it is always appreciated to see all the effort that is being made by companies like Google and foundations like the Guggenheim to give everyone a chance to explore such amazing places. Especially, in the current situation. If you would like to explore incredible museums all around the world, make sure to check out this list.