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Tess' Top Five Virtual Art Tours

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

In planning this blog over the past year and a half, part of our vision has always been gathering contributions from people with diverse backgrounds.  We are therefore very excited and honoured that Tess Juan-Gaillot has agreed to contribute.  Tess is an arts mediator at the Institute for Islamic Cultures in Paris.  We had the pleasure of meeting her during a Soul Food excursion last fall, when it was still possible to perambulate in groups and visit places of cultural significance (something that is starting to feel like a distant memory as we enter week 8 of confinement here in Paris).  She was our knowledgable, enthusiastic guide, who happily gave bilingual explanations to our mixed group of American study abroad students and young, francophone migrants.  This excursion was unique in that our traditional exhibition tour started with a presentation of our organization to undergraduate students in a human rights course.  It was an incredibly cold and rainy Friday evening in Paris, and many of the young people were late, which ended up being fine since Tess is always so relaxed and this extra time before the tour allowed us to get to know each other more, and discuss Soul Food.  Since then, she has been an ardent supporter of our initiatives.  We feel very lucky to have her contribution to the blog and look forward to future cultural excursions and other collaborations with her!  Until then, we will be relishing these virtual art tours from the safety of our homes, and adding them to the upcoming "Culture from Home!" emails to our young members that go out each week.

From state-of-the-art interactive virtual reality tours that require the latest AI equipment, to the clunky early-2000s PowerPoint presentations parading as virtual museum tours…the frantic scramble for confinement edutainment in the museum sector can be full of disappointments. So after much perusing, I put together a list of five of my favorite virtual exhibition tours. Enjoy!

1. Jheronimus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Jheronimus, Hieronymus…Jérôme? Whatever you decide to call him, and whether you think you’ll be bored by an old art history classic, please do not miss out on this wild ride. Despite creating The Garden of Earthly Delights at the tail-end of the 15th century in his native Netherlands, Bosch was the definition of an artist before his time. The architecture and technology displayed is futuristic even by today’s standards. Humans and animals interact with one another, sometimes disturbingly so, and the amount of detail reminds me of Where’s Waldo. Don’t worry though, if you feel overwhelmed, take the guided tour version and listen to the guide’s explanations, otherwise feel free to explore on your own.

2. Tomb of Menna in the Theban Necropolis, The American Research Center of Egypt

This one actually made me gasp, but then again I am an art history nerd — so I’ll let you be the judge of its wow-factor. I find it simply exciting (and surreal) to see ancient artworks up close while being the master of your own visit, despite never actually leaving your home. The image quality is impressive and allows you to admire the tomb’s architectural and artistic qualities, while supporting your need for further historical explanations with interactive options. It’s surprisingly ergonomic and works on smartphones without any bothersome downloads of log-ins.

3. Beliefs: Unravelling the Invisible exhibition, Institut des Cultures d’Islam

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the virtual reality tour of the Institute of Islamic Cultures’ most recent exhibition, Beliefs, Unravelling the Invisible (since —full disclosure — I actually work there). A first for this contemporary art center, the three-part virtual tour allows you to walk through the exhibition at your own pace, with bilingual wall-texts under each work. Central to these eclectic photographic artworks is the following question: What does it mean to believe? Each artist invites you to see and question the world through their eyes, or in this case — though their camera lens. From the many divergent manifestations of organized monotheistic religion to modern-day sorcery rituals and mythology, get ready to travel through the African continent from your couch. Along your journey, you’ll discover surprising works by artists the likes of Samuel Fosso, Maïmouna Gueressi, Btihal Remli, and Tabita Rezaire to name a few.

Photo taken at the Monnaie de Paris, during the Kiki Smith exhibit
Photo © Soul Food / Kryssandra Heslop

4. Kiki Smith exhibition, La Monnaie de Paris

With no pedestal in sight, Kiki Smith’s work stands on its own two feet, refusing to be eclipsed by the exquisite and imposing Neo-classical architecture that defines La Monnaie de Paris. Whereas some virtual tours really put the emphasis on the interactive experience, this one prioritizes cultural mediation. The experience remains fluid and visually attractive, punctuated by the occasional curator’s recording alongside more in depth explanations. Smith’s artistic range is on full display: from sometimes eerie life-size sculptures that take on a life of their own to her engravings, prints, and textile works, this is a great opportunity to discover the work of a contemporary artist influenced, in part, by the Surrealist movement. Don’t know what Surrealism is? Take a look at #5!

Photo © Soul Food / Kryssandra Heslop

5. Salvador Dalí tour, The Dalí Theatre-Museum

Explore Salvador Dalí's body of work in a doll-house-like virtual tour of the museum entirely dedicated to this famous Surrealist artist. In fact, The Dalí Theatre-Museum could be considered an artwork in itself since Dalí personally participated in repurposing this old municipal theatre in his hometown of Figueres, Spain. There you'll find your traditional wall hangings of paintings and drawings, but you may be surprised by his strange installation pieces and the space in general. My favorite space is actually outdoors in the courtyard where a Mercedes has been repurposed for artistic reasons that escaped, yet fascinated me. I especially enjoy the occasional interactive pinpoints that push me to truly look at the works of art and notice details I may have missed, while giving short and handy explanations. That being said, I challenge you to find the piece Dalí made by throwing octopuses at a canvas... Hey -- it's surreal or it isn't.

You’ll notice that these Top Five tend to reflect my taste for the surreal, a state of mind I think most of us can identify with during this time when nothing feels normal, yet we all have to sort of get on with it. That being said, I’m just glad we can share some beauty and weirdness, safely apart.

Sincerely wishing you and your loved ones safety and good health during these trying times.

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