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Armchair Culture: Virtually Touring Budapest’s Museums and Galleries

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Quisquilia/Shutterstock

David Holzer decides to take advantage of the “stay at home” orders by embracing culture coronavirus-style; going on a virtual tour of some of Budapestʼs best loved museums and galleries.

Photo by Quisquilia/Shutterstock

You don’t need to be a genius to realize that the amount we’re all spending online has skyrocketed during lockdown. Museums and art galleries all over the world that have been forced to close their doors as a result of COVID-19 are seeing the numbers of people taking virtual tours surge.

And why not? A virtual tour of the world’s great museums or galleries is the perfect way to cleanse one’s palate of the nasty taste left by watching the entire series of Netflix’s Tiger King in one sitting.

Taking a virtual tour also doesn’t have to be a poor cousin to visiting a museum or gallery and seeing exhibits in the flesh. In the real world, the most popular exhibitions are often so packed with culture vultures it’s impossible to spend more than a couple of minutes in front of an artwork stroking your chin and pretending you know something about art without a chorus of loud harrumphing from behind. That’s if you can even get anywhere near it at all.

Viewing artworks online means you can’t reach out and touch them. This might seem, at best, a minor benefit. But, as someone who nearly got arrested in Vienna last year when I couldn’t stop myself from touching an especially tempting daubing, I’m happy that the only thing my fingers touch is my keyboard.

Being an armchair art lover or a couch potato connoisseur also spares your feet while broadening your mind. The intensive research for this article consisted of me taking several virtual tours of Budapest museums and galleries. Although I was somewhat goggle-eyed by the end, I was fresh as a daisy.

Fine Arts and Beards

I started with the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. This offers tours on the themes of Motherhood, Angels, Perspective and, my favorite, “From False Beards to Hipster Beards,” a selection of paintings and sculptures of dudes throughout the ages sporting…, well, you’ve guessed it.

This made me wonder whether the current vogue for beards will survive lockdown. According to a blog post on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, a beard can interfere with the efficacy of a tight-fitting respirator.

It’s not surprising, then, that the Live Bearded website hastened to reassure its readers that “unless you work in a hospital, or somewhere that requires a fully sealed respirator, a beard will not increase your chances of exposure to the virus.”

If your chin does sport, let’s say, a Van Dyke, Garibaldi, Old Dutch or Soul Patch, Live Bearded’s advice is to avoid stroking your “killer beard” and wash with an all-natural beard wash. Now you know. Back to virtual tours.

I was curious to discover whether Hungarian museums and galleries were experiencing the same kind of increase in virtual tourists as big hitters like the Louvre. Dávid Szabó, in the PR department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest told me, “Our online content is rather popular. Searches have almost doubled.”

(Incidentally, the Louvre’s virtual tours of exhibitions are a bit boring but there’s something called youvisit.com that lets you look around from all kinds of weird and wonderful psychedelic perspectives.)

The Automaton

From the Museum of Fine Artists, I cyber-sauntered over to the Műcsarnok-Kunsthalle on Heroes’ Square. Here I checked out exhibitions by artists I’d never heard of that I would have been highly unlikely to visit in reality. Of these, I’d recommend Paolo Ventura’s “A Venetian Story: The Automaton and Olga Tobreluts’ New Mythology.”

If you want to be baffled, take a tour of David Lynch’s Small Stories. When I saw this exhibition in the flesh, as it were, last year I had no idea what I thought about it. It still bewilders me, but it was nice to see again.

As an admirer of the great Hungarian writer Magda Szabó, I was delighted to discover I could take a virtual tour of the exhibition devoted to her life at the Petőfi Literary Museum. If you don’t know Magda Szabó, I’d highly recommend you pick up a copy of her book “The Door.” This was made into a 2012 movie starring Helen Mirren which you can watch on Amazon Prime.

When you arrive at the start of the virtual tour, you’ll read a quote from Szabó. “I have kept so many secrets,” it says. Unfortunately, the secrets of the exhibition were safe from me as I couldn’t figure out how to cyber-stroll through it. Mind you, I have plenty of time on my hands to get to grips with that particular challenge.

My last tour before I retired for the day was of Budapest’s Museum of Applied Arts, which I’ve never visited in reality. I was immediately fascinated by a bright orange chair designed by Marcell Breuer. This came from the collection of Hungarian architectural connoisseur Borbiró and was made in 1930. Seeing the chair reminded me I’ve yet to visit any of Budapest’s Bauhaus architectural gems, particularly the Pasarét Franciscan Church in Pasaréti tér, built in 1933 in Buda’s District II. I didn’t know Bauhaus did churches.

Missing the Commute?

If you’re missing your Budapest commute, I discovered it’s possible to take a virtual tour of some of the stations on the M4 metro line, thanks to our friends at welovebudapest.com.

I have no idea what was going through the mind of the marketing genius who thought up this one. Especially as one of the benefits of lockdown is not having to get on crowded trains.

But, there’s something enormously soothing about pictures of empty metro stations. I was startled to discover I’d spent 30 minutes staring at images of Keleti, Kálvin tér and other stations I’m never likely to alight at.

The Museum of Fine Arts is at mng.hu. Műcsarnok is at mucsarnok.hu. The Magda Szabó tour is at szabomagda.pim.hu. Go to artsandculture.google.com/partner/iparmuveszeti-museum for the Museum of Applied Arts and virtualis-seta.hu/budapest/metro4data/ for commuting nostalgia.

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