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AP footage of the Mona Lisa’s 1963 exhibition at the Met (Screen grab via Youtube)

If you thought you were going to have a productive day today, think again. The Associated Press and Movietone have together just dumped more than 550,000 archival news reels — about 1 million minutes of footage — on YouTube. It would take roughly two years to watch it all.

The “view-on-demand visual encyclopedia,” as AP describes it in a press release, extends as far back as 1895 and covers some of the biggest events in recent history. You no longer have to dig through a physical archive to view previously unreleased videos of smoke rising over Pearl Harbor and Apollo 11 launching into space. “At AP we are always astonished at the sheer breadth of footage that we have access to, and the upload to YouTube means that, for the first time, the public can enjoy some of the oldest and most remarkable moments in history,” said Alwyn Lindsey, AP’s director of international archive.

Perusing the new YouTube channels turns up some fascinating art historical moments. In one video shot in Paris during World War II, workers at the Louvre box up paintings and remove stained glass from the city’s churches to protect it from bombings. Another video filmed in Germany after the war shows artworks looted by Hermann Göring being unsealed from a cave where he hid them. They’re strange to watch today, as similar events are now playing out with ISIS destroying cultural heritage artifacts and museums refusing to repatriate Nazi-looted works.

The videos reflect the good and the bad. In several nostalgic clips from the 1960s, artists sell their paintings on the bustling sidewalks of Greenwich Village, visitors flock to catch the Mona Lisa‘s brief appearance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Salvador Dali baptizes his artworks in sparkling water at an art opening. In others, a misguided political artist eats a dog, and street artist Shephard Fairey getting sued by none other than the AP.

There’s also plenty of the stuff local TV stations love to run. Baffling art trends like body art? Check. Zoo animals that can paint abstractly? Right here. Ten-year-olds as talented as Picasso? Voilà.


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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...