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Visiting Museums … Without Leaving Home
The Beautiful and the Bizarre
by Roberta Roberti

Link-Up Digital
January 15, 2007

Many of us have gotten used to working without taking off our fuzzy slippers, and that impulse has crept into our recreational lives, including visiting museums. There are many you can visit in your Spiderman pajamas.

Most major museums, such as the Louvre, The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and the Smithsonian, have virtual counterparts. Artwork is variably catalogued by artist, title, subject, theme, medium, and genre. Much like brick-and-mortar galleries, they have exhibitions, displaying the featured works of the moment. Some sites will walk you through definitions of the styles, visual clues as to the artists’ representations, and the life and times of the artist.

A particularly well-referenced one is the National Gallery of Art (www.nga.gov), which offers in-depth descriptions of the artists’ techniques and styles. Olga’s Gallery (www.abcgallery.com) is well-organized and easy to navigate, listing works not only by artist and country but also by movement (Gothic, Renaissance, Surrealism), as well as by reference in Ancient Greek and Roman myths, religious texts, and literature, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For museums dedicated to one particular artist, go to a search engine and plug in the artist’s name plus “museum” to get a listing of what’s available.

Other Art

Do book covers count as art? Yes, because someone designed that book you are reading. The Cover Art Gallery (www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~jimthing) is an assortment of book covers separated into categories and accompanied by descriptions. Early Harlequin Paperback Cover Art (www.mjtbooks.com/harlequins/index.html) is just what it sounds like—romance novels of yesteryear. At www.normansaunders.com/index.html, you’ll find Norman Saunders’ cover art from the 1920s to the 1960s, which he designed for a variety of publications, such as Modern Mechanics, detective magazines, and comics.

Fans of old photography will love the George Eastman House Photography Collection (www.eastmanhouse.org/inc/collections/photography.php), which has various collections, including daguerreotypes, stereo views, and “coming attraction” lantern slides, as well as images of antique photographic equipment. Photogravure was a printing process that was created in the early days of photography—at Art of Photogravure (www.photogravure.com), mesmerizing photogravure prints from a huge array of artists are available for viewing through several search options.

In the early years of the 20th century, a man named Benjamin Swartzberg collected postcards from Russia, Poland, and Germany. His grandson gathered these together and created an archive. Why is this interesting? Because it speaks to the postcard as an art form beyond those cheesy dime-store snapshots. View them at Benny’s Postcards (http://members.screenz.com/bennypostcards).

Mon petit musée virtuel de publicités féminines (http://bellesdepub.free.fr) is written in French, but its anthology of illustrations of “feminine” products, such as lingerie and cosmetics, from the 1940s and 1950s is beguiling.

Blasts from the Past

For those of you who like to stroll down memory lane, you’ll dig this next group of galleries.

The American Package Museum (www.packagemuseum.com) is a visual compendium of vintage product packaging, from A&P Coffee to Morton Salt to Wrigley’s Gum (and all in amazingly excellent condition). Similar is Tick Tock Toys (www.theimaginaryworld.com/page4.html), except that TTT focuses on children’s products (and is not as slick as American Package).

But what is a product without advertisement? Ad*Access (http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/adaccess) will bring you back to the bold, vivid colors of pre-1960s product ads. Toyadz.com (www.toyadz.com/toyadz/menu1.html) is for lovers of vintage toys. Although there is a doll section, the majority of these toys would have appealed to boys. Planes, trains, horses, and GI Joes—they’re all here. The Museum of Mid-Century Illustration (www.plan59.com) is a fabulous collection of mid-20th century illustrations and photos of cars, produce crates, home décor, and more. May of these illustrations are ads. The William F. Eisner Museum of Advertising & Design (www.eisnermuseum.org/exhibits/online.shtm) presents the artwork of ad campaigns, including 19th-century hikifuda (striking early Japanese advertising). The Fading Ad Gallery (www.frankjump.com/fadingadgallery.html) shows old, fading ads that were painted on urban buildings.

Food

People are often obsessed with food. Of course—it’s primal; it’s sensual; it’s the blessing and the bane of our existence. Naturally, there are a few food museums. My absolute favorite is the Gallery of Regrettable Food (www.lileks.com/institute/gallery). A close second (in theory, anyway, because there aren’t many exhibits) is The Museum of Burnt Food (www.burntfoodmuseum.com). Its motto is “Celebrating the Art of Culinary Disaster.” A few more are NY Food Museum (www.nyfoodmuseum.org), The Food Museum (www.foodmuseum.com), and The Potato Museum (www.potatomuseum.com).

Music

The LP cover has become a lost art, what with CDs, MP3s, and all. The best LP covers are the bad ones, the “What were they thinking?” kind of bad. Let’s step back in time with these groovy galleries:

The Unusual

Presenting All Ball (www.allball.org), where you’ll find photos of all types of small balls—bouncy balls, flashing balls, puzzle balls, marbles, and balls with faces, animals, and vehicles inside them. Who are we to judge others’ hobbies?

You know those little labels that come stuck on fruit that you have to pick at for five minutes before they finally come off and then you have to stick them wherever you can? Did you ever think of collecting them? Well, someone did. See them at The World of Fruit Labels (www.nationalfinder.com/fruitlabels/index.htm).

I discovered a couple of years back that vintage Eastern European (particularly Soviet) cameras were a hot thing among collectors. So it didn’t surprise me that Soviet radios were collectible as well. At Red Star Radiosite: Soviet Antique Radio Gallery (http://oldradio.onego.ru), there are some impressive pieces, including record players, receivers, and miscellanea.

Do you frequent casinos? If you ever stop staring at your cards long enough to look down, you might notice that casino designers go to great lengths to choose the right carpeting. Casino Carpet Gallery (www.dieiscast.com/gallerycarpet.html) exhibits the carpet patterns of casinos around the U.S. From floral to abstract to geometric, these patterns are vivid, colorful, and elegant. But do you ever notice? No, you’re too busy losing your pants.

Artists have used countless media to showcase their talents. Take these next two archives, for instance. Virtual Museum Match World (http://server18.joeswebhosting.net/~xx9185/english/index.html) displays matchbook art. World Web Playing Card Museum (http://www.rusjoker.ru/WWPCM/) represents—you guessed it—playing card art.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and art is subjective. That philosophy is amply expressed at The Museum of Temporary Art (www.museum-of-temporary-art.com/index.html). Some “other” representations of art displayed at this site include such things as paperclips, burst balloons, and glued-together household objects. Outsider Art (www.interestingideas.com) is another example of this concept. There are sock puppets, gyro posters, and roadside art.

My favorite unusual museum is Interior Desecrations (www.lileks.com/institute/interiors/71book/2.html); I like its presentation of hideous interior designs that fall under the category of “They must have been on drugs.”

And the Truly Bizarre

Some may argue that these sites are not museums at all but merely depositories for people’s misplaced and perhaps disturbed passions. Nevertheless, where there’s one collector, there are more. Where do I begin? One person’s trash is another’s treasure. The Grocery List Collection (www.grocerylists.org) is a perfect example. Bill Keaggy actually picked up and amassed discarded grocery lists. He claims to have more than 1,400 “funny, crazy, weird, sad and/or mundane discarded scraps of paper … .” (I noticed that a lot of people wrote “dog” or “cat,” as if they would be plucking animals right off the shelf along with the coffee and toothpaste.) There’s something bizarrely compelling about this. Believe it or not, it’s been made into a book.

I’ve felt quite jaded for a long time, and yet I’m always surprised at people’s activities and interests, which range from freaky to macabre. For instance, check out the Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks (http://libweb.princeton.edu/libraries/firestone/rbsc/aids/C0770). Want to see what Walt Whitman’s or Mary Queen of Scots’ death mask looks like?

Here are a few more museums to keep you wondering about the mysteries of life:

  • The International Dog Food Museum (http://internationaldogfoodmuseum.com). There are photos of dog food cans around the world, canning information, and tips on reading a dog food label (much as you would read the label on a fine bottle of wine).
  • Airline Spoons (www.flickr.com/photos/airlinespoons). I guess if airlines are missing utensils, they now know why.
  • The Virtual Lederhosenmuseum (www.lederhosenmuseum.de/GBhomepage.htm). Lederhosen are those short pants and suspenders that people go yodeling around the Alps in. All I can say is, don’t spend too much time in the fly gallery.
  • Delphion’s Gallery of Obscure Patents (www.delphion.com/gallery). One can only wonder why the bird diaper or the gravity-powered shoe air conditioner never took off.
There are so many great—and compelling—online museums, I wish I could list them all. But whatever your interest is, I’m sure there’s a museum for it. Maybe you’ll create your own museum. Just take pictures of your cat’s hairball collection and go.


Roberta Roberti is a freelance writer who has written more than 25 articles for various publications. You can find links to some of them at her web site (www.rroberti-writer.com).

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