Google’s art app now offers a glimpse of Africa’s largest art collection

Take a closer look.
Take a closer look.
Image: AP Photo/Denis Farrell
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Now you can explore Africa’s largest art collection from your smartphone. The Johannesburg Art Gallery has become the latest museum to make itself available on Google’s virtual museum tours. Along with the museum’s collection of Picasso’s and Manet’s, it is also showcasing a broad range of South African artists who may not yet have had exposure outside of the country.

To announce its online tours, the Johannesburg Art Gallery made available its recent thought provoking exhibitions The Evidence of Things Not Seen, which features photography as a weapon of anti-apartheid protest and the museum’s contemporary selection of work exclusively produced by artists of color. It also features a solo exhibition Bleek, which explores white masculinity in contemporary South Africa.

The museum is home to “in excess of 10,000 objects, many of which cannot be seen often because of the number of internal and external exhibitions we host,” said Tara Weber, the museum’s registrar. “As a museum we are interested in finding new modes of display and engagement, with collaborative projects such these as a key to increasing access.”

Google’s Cultural Institute offers virtual tours to museums around the world, forcing the museum’s ticket box model into the 21st century. By downloading an app, virtual visitors can explore the corridors of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City or the Tate Modern in London from the smartphone.

The museum’s patrons hope that global access will bring new friends to the museum that has struggled in recent years. Despite its impressive collection amassed since 1915, the Johannesburg Art Gallery has struggled to attract funding to maintain basic necessities like its roof.

The virtual galleries also give users access to historical objects. The African collections on the virtual museum tour include the Kenya National Archives, which holds thousands of public records, and Nairobi’s more contemporary GoDown Arts Centre. The site also hosts archives from the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg and takes a look into the Robben Island Museum, where Mandela was held.