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Detail of “Relief of three dancing nymphs” (1st century CE), available as a Zoom background thanks to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

It’s hard to say at exactly what stage in the nebulous pandemic timeline museums decided to start releasing Zoom backgrounds. As early as March, the Smithsonian American Art Museum published a blog post titled “The Art of the Teleconference,” with instructions on how to upload works from its collections. A few days later, the Getty countered with a list of suggested backdrops from its trove of 100,000 public domain images and a screenshot of its assistant curator of manuscripts surrounded by 15th century gold leaf patterning.

By mid-April, the quirky feature had become a full-fledged digital art phenomenon, with the Metropolitan Museum offering up perfectly-scaled shots of its sumptuous period rooms to make you “the envy of your colleagues” and the Tenement Museum urging us to “Zoom into the past.” The options are now seemingly limitless, and like mostly everything else in the dizzying universe of online art saturation we currently find ourselves in, making a choice can be a daunting task.

Sift endlessly through rectangular crops of ancient Roman ruins no more: the newly launched Zoom Museum, created by Iruoma Ekpunobi, is a comprehensive compilation of the artworks made available by different institutions for your conferencing needs. The visually enticing and, most importantly, quickly-loading Tumblr blog includes links to a Google Drive with neatly-organized folders for each museum. 

Paul Cézanne, “Sous-Bois” (ca. 1894), made available as a Zoom background by LACMA.

“ZOOM Museum is unlike most museums,” writes Ekpunobi, who says she made the website as a final project. “It is completely free, and open to the public regardless of the public’s location.” Paintings, photographs, installations, and lavishly recreated 18th century interiors, as well as step-by-step instructions to set them as backdrops on Zoom, are available for immediate download.

Bask in Alma Thomas’s dazzling “Lunar Rendezvous” (1969), from the collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas. Rest under the cool branches of Paul Cézanne’s “Sous-Bois” (1894), from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Disrupt the solemn solitude of an Edward Hopper painting. Or pretend your impossibly early staff meeting is a swanky exhibition opening with an image of the de Young Museum’s galleries

A Zoom background based on “Boiserie from the Hôtel de Varengeville” (ca. 1736–52) from the Met’s collection.

Initiatives like Zoom Museum make it easier to get artsy during what could be a very dull part of your day. For those of us sorely missing in-person interactions with art, experiencing it online can be eye roll-inducing. Having a work of art as a Zoom background, however, has become a pandemic ritual that gets you closer to your favorite institutions and your equally groggy colleagues.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...