Pandemic restrictions on travel and public gatherings may make you feel like you’ve been cut off from summer’s usual glut of style exhibitions, but nimble museums and galleries have pivoted online to help you find more inspiration than ever before. They’ve beefed up their blogs, handed their social media feeds over to their curators and digitized their archives. Here’s where you should go on a virtual field trip.
House and home
What’s the virtual solution when your whole city is a museum? Modernist destination Palm Springs has created Palm Springs Modern: Mid-Century Modern Architecture, an app that simulates the experience of its popular Modernism Week event. A US$6.99 download delivers narrated property tours of more than 80 architecturally significant buildings and landmark homes, including Frey House II and Edris House, as well as detailed profiles of a dozen leading architects such as John Lautner and Richard Neutra.
Via the YouTube channel of the Vitra Design Museum, Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors includes a 15-minute exhibition tour as well as recordings of the show’s opening talk and exhibition film. Closer to home, the Canadian Museum of History highlights the country’s decorative arts and furniture with a spotlight on the Harbinson Collection. Areas of interest include Ontario woven coverlet textiles, the early diamond point armoires of Quebec and historical furnishings from the Maritime provinces.
The culture of design
The doors to the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park may be closed but many past exhibitions are online as elaborate digital stories. I recommend the prescient Cult of the Machine about how technological efficiency, automation and optimization redefined every category of 20th-century design from automotive to furniture.
The Material Textile: Modern British Female Designers gallery show at Messums Wiltshire is a guide to the distinctive styles of notable surface artists such as Lucienne Day and the late, Trinidad-born Althea McNish, who was among the first Afro-Caribbean designers to gain international acclaim. You can also download a gratis copy of the sumptuous exhibition catalogue.
Bauhaus Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago, reopening July 30, has been extended through the fall, with a complement of exploratory online material. To max out your design education, every one of the MoMA’s exhibitions dating back to 1929, including 1947′s 100 Useful Objects of Fine Design (Available for Under $100) to the more recent Counter Space survey of the modern kitchen is archived online.
Fashioning the past
It’s fitting that the virtual counterpart of Willi Smith: Street Couture at the Cooper Hewitt is the best online fashion exhibition right now: The influential and visionary Smith invented streetwear, and was the among the most successful Black designers in the fashion industry. Every object from the exhibition, online until Oct. 25, is browsable, from runway videos of his popular WilliWear line to renderings of his Paris and New York boutiques.
The video section of 15-minute clips called Chronicles on the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris site explains Saint Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian tribute collection, while Feminine Singular dives into Saint Laurent’s longtime creative collaboration with best friend Betty Catroux. The Fashion & Textile Museum’s blog features essays about stalwart London couturiers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies (the inspiration for the designer who Daniel Day-Lewis plays in Phantom Thread).
Ahead of Man Ray and Fashion at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, the museum’s redesigned website features Man Ray et Moi, a lineup of testimonials by 25 art world creatives including Juergen Teller and Martin Margiela on his influence and legacy. And while you’re waiting for The World of Anna Sui retrospective to open at the Museum of Arts and Design in September, listen to various contemporaries talk about her work.
Decolonize fashion history
When Gucci needed guidance after its use of racist iconography, the brand turned to style scholar and Ryerson University professor Kimberly Jenkins. Her groundbreaking Fashion & Race Database project relaunched this summer and is a great place to start educating yourself with essays about diversity and profiles of racially-marginalized fashion figures.
Wearing Our Identity: The First Peoples Collection, a permanent online exhibition from the McCord Museum, explores the relationship between dress and identity of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis under the purview of Indigenous Cultures curator Jonathan Lainey of the Huron-Wendat Nation. A hundred items from the Indigenous Cultures collection demonstrate the historic context of ancestral knowledge and the community’s ongoing vitality.
The grand opening of the Makeup Museum in New York may have been delayed but the history has moved online with videos fleshing out its inaugural show, Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America and its showcase of artifacts and cosmetics ephemera from the personal collections of Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe. Makeup historians including Louise Young, Madeleine Marsh and Gabriela Hernandez talk about the anthropology of cosmetic adornment, all archived on the museum’s Instagram Live channel at @makeupmuseumofficial.
The post-pandemic world
The San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design’s Design by Distance showcases how creative minds around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in real time. Some elements, online until Dec. 31, are speculative proposals while others are earnest prototypes such as pendant shields for separating diners or Montreal-based Ying Gao’s acrylic wimple.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ongoing design and society exhibition Pandemic Objects uses pieces from its collections to illustrate the history of and response to the new coronavirus outbreak. There’s a new meaning to everyday items that have come under increasing scrutiny during lockdown: soap, toilet paper rolls, yeast and door handles each get an essay.
Even before communities had emerged from lockdown with new priorities for safe movement through public spaces, the Architecture & Design Museum in Los Angeles swiftly curated a virtual exhibition, The Future of Space. Until July 31, more than 80 artists address questions about our ever-evolving expectations for navigating the new normal.