An Online Visit to the Smithsonian Asian Art Museum

Jessica Lin, Staff Writer

Woodson has worked hard all year to go virtual.  Museums in Washington D.C. have done the same and remain a convenient, fun way to stay plugged into the world aside from school.  Take for example the Museum of Asian Art.  Its website has interesting activities and a plethora of online resources for all, including video libraries, podcasts, live-streamed performances, exhibits and online tours.  “It’s just nice to have that information at your fingertips,” says junior Jordan Lucas.  

Moongate Garden. Photos by Jessica Lin.

With no time needed to drive, to park, or even to walk through large buildings, websites are more accessible and convenient than the actual museum. “For…[museum websites], I can see a lot of resources very efficiently,” says sophomore Dylan Wang.

Their online resources cater to a variety of lifestyles.  At the Museum of Asian Art, podcasts of all sorts can be listened to when riding in the car, folding laundry or preparing dinner.  Topics range from fashion history of the Ottoman Turks, to music of different Asian cultures, to lighthearted folk tales for all ages. Lucas says she prefers podcasts over other online resources to listen to while out for a run. “I focus in on what they are saying, and then I forget that I’m running…It’s like a conversation, it’s kind of interesting rather than just like academic writing.”  

For beginners, a good place to start are the one-minute audio highlights.  For enthusiasts, online pages provide a concentrated source of videos and information. 

“[When museums are] online, people who design the website can focus your attention in different areas,”  says freshman Cosette Jo.  “Strolling through a museum, you pick and choose and sometimes you miss out on important stuff.” Jo says another strength of the virtual gallery highlights are that “you get what people are trying to tell you….more information can be consumed, and little details can be brought to mind.”

This year it is easy to feel disconnected from communities you were a part of. “Especially with live performances and…pieces of art, you can’t really capture it onto a screen,” Jo says.  In the Museum of Asian Art’s online group tours, you can gather with friends or family to speak with experts on specific collaborative topics.  One such topic was the collaboration of curator Emma Stein, an expert on the Cambodian snake deity, naga, and dancer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro.  

While all museums have had to close their doors, outside attractions like the Museum of Asian Art’s Moongate Garden have remained open.  With new six-foot markings and a designated path to follow, people have come out to enjoy the cherry blossoms and magnolias that bloomed earlier this spring.  Seeing that masks are here to stay for a while longer, outside attractions like this will be spotlighted more than before.  

Asian Art Museum entrance.

However, there are many ways in which online museums are lacking.  Zoe Eng, a freshman, says “it’s kind of like a family trip-outing…[that is] an experience as well, not just learning the information.” Eng adds that going to a museum “…has its own atmosphere, and it’s just more immersive when you’re there, it’s just more fun that way.”  Wang says, “[When] I can actually see the things in person, it is a lot clearer for me.”  Surfing the web is often an individual experience, but going to museums in person is often social.  “It’s kind of fun to be around other people who want to look at the same thing…even if you don’t know [them],” says Lucas.  

On a visit to the Museum of Asian Art, students look forward to wandering through a museum to see where it takes them, but also more interactive features like seen on websites to make information more accessible.  Jo says, “I do think that people, including me, [are] probably going to want something more direct, something we won’t have to like meander over to look at the exhibit. I think it’s not good or bad, it’s just something that will probably happen.”