Several South Florida institutions more or less get subsumed in their parent sites. The Cornell Museum of Art & History in Delray Beach is swallowed up by the bland site for the Old School Square Cultural Arts Center (www.oldschool.org). About all you come away with is a historical tidbit: The building that houses the museum -- part of a complex that is now a National Historic Site and a Florida Cultural Institution -- was once Delray Beach Elementary School, founded in 1913 and dedicated as a museum in 1990.
Art is also just one facet of the sites for the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood (www.artandculturecenter.org) and Palm Beach's Society of the Four Arts (www.fourarts.org). And although the visual arts are a high priority for both organizations, you wouldn't know it from their sites, where the art-related material pretty much gets lost in the mix.
The most grievous slight, however, is that of the Coral Springs Museum of Art, which is buried within the general site for the City of Coral Springs (www.coralsprings.org). You have to link your way to the museum's page only to find a skimpy reminder that one of South Florida's finest display spaces for art continues to go largely neglected. The consolation is that the page includes a nifty "Virtual View of the Art Museum" that allows you to scan a 360-degree view of the main galleries, complete with buttons to zoom in and out.
All of the sites include such boring but essential information as directions, hours, and prices. Most also include some sort of calendar of events, often in serious need of updating. And most institutions are eager to stress their educational programming with one link, the better to hit you up with other links urging you to become a member or volunteer; if there's a museum store, it gets a plug too.
The museums also typically like to remind you that their facilities are available to rent for special occasions. The Boca Raton Museum of Art (www.bocamuseum.org), for example, can be had for a price, but not without certain restrictions: "The Museum does not accept requests for fundraisers, weddings, political events, birthday parties or anniversaries."
The sites for the larger museums tend to offer more breadth and depth. The relatively new Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art in Lake Worth (www.palmbeachica.org) beefs up its site with a button that links to seven short but thought-provoking articles reflecting on the art world's responses to the events of September 11. Among the points of view included are those of dancer Bill T. Jones, television and movie producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and composer John Corigliano.
The site for the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami (www.mocanomi.org) features a letter from director and chief curator Bonnie Clearwater that also touches on 9/11. And the material on current and upcoming exhibitions also includes the attention to detail for which Clearwater is renowned -- information on the artists and their media, as well as extensive information on individual artworks themselves.
But what, you may well ask, of the art itself? Good question. The most disheartening thing about so many of these sites is their stinginess with reproductions of their holdings, which in some cases are quite substantial. Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Art (www.museumofart.org) justly touts its collection of works by the American impressionist William Glackens -- "the world's largest," according to the site, "now open in its newly renovated, permanent home" -- and offers clickable thumbnails of more than a dozen paintings.
But click on the button for the museum's other holdings and you'll get a scant paragraph on the permanent collection that alludes to works by Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Frank Stella. All you'll see, however, are reproductions of a Glackens painting and a Picasso ceramic. The museum's substantial collection of CoBrA (Copenhagen/Brussels/Amsterdam) and Cuban art are mentioned but not illustrated. Exhibition archives offer brief descriptions of shows but rarely reproductions.
Given its newcomer status, it's understandable that the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art doesn't emphasize a permanent collection. But it's disappointing to find so little on the Museum of Contemporary Art's holdings, even though much of it falls into such hard-to-represent categories as installation and multimedia art.
The Boca Museum fares slightly better, offering a "Permanent Collection" button linking to succinct overviews of various specialized collections: Modern Masters, 19th and 20th Century, Contemporary Art, Graphics and Photography, Ethnographic, Sculpture, and Ceramics. Just don't expect much in the way of visual examples from these subsets.
I had just about given up on seeing much art at a South Florida museum site when I visited the one for West Palm Beach's Norton Museum of Art (www.norton.org), which, despite its essentially mundane design, includes hundreds of reproductions from exhibitions past, present, and future. (None of the sites, sad to say, is especially well-designed, although the Boca Museum site boasts a bit of Flash animation.)
The Norton's Exhibition Archive section covers a whopping 67 shows from the past several years. The links include samples from their respective shows along with overviews that range from one to several paragraphs. The Upcoming Exhibitions section has previews of four shows, all but one with a sample reproduction. And the Current Exhibitions section has information on three shows, one of which -- "American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum" -- is represented by seven clickable thumbnails.
But it's the Permanent Collections page that most distinguishes the Norton site. It's divided into seven categories: American, Renaissance Through Baroque, Chinese, Contemporary, Outdoor Sculpture, European, and Photography. With the exception of the Outdoor Sculpture collection, which is minimal, each collection is represented by at least 25 reproductions.
We get a good sense of the museum's American collection, which boasts such treasures as Jackson Pollock's Night Mist (1945) and Georgia O'Keeffe's Pelvis with Moon (1943), by way of nearly 50 thumbnails. And the exceptional European collection gets its due with thumbnails of 55 works, including pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Courbet, Chagall, Degas, Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, and de Chirico, making the Norton site by far the most comprehensive in terms of reproductions.
A minor but nevertheless irritating thing about many of these sites is an inattention to detail that's all too prevalent on the Internet. I ran across The Temptest (as opposed to The Tempest) and Edgar Allen (rather than Allan) Poe on the Art and Culture Center site, and a link to the floor plans of the Museum of Art refers to the museum's beloved William Glackens as Glakens.
One page at the Boca Museum site includes links to "Exhibition Archibe" and "Partneships," and Georges Braque's first name is Anglicized to George. Even the Norton's impressive site botches Braque's name the same way and gives us photographer Audré (instead of André) Kertesz, painter Alice Neelks (instead of Neel), and a show called "Road Worriors."
Of course, a cybervisit to even the best-designed, most polished museum site, even one with countless high-quality reproductions and a wealth of information, is a poor substitute for a real visit to a real museum. Most art is meant to be seen -- experienced -- firsthand, and unless some techie miraculously comes up with a way to create a convincing illusion of experiencing art that way, we'll just have to keep trudging to museums. That's fine with me.