Expanding the Google Art Project
Democratizing platform or cultural destroyer?
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Updated: Saturday, May 5, 2012 03:05
More than a year ago, Google launched the Google Art Project, an online platform designed to showcase the world’s art in high-resolution images via the click of a mouse. Originally, merely 17 Western museums were a part of the project. But this month, Google announced a major expansion to include 151 museums from 40 countries with over 32,000 pieces of art, including art forms such as sculptures, paintings, documents and pottery. This online exhibit allows anyone with a computer to travel virtually across the world to renowned institutions while sitting at home.
The idea of viewing art through your computer screen, thousands of miles away from the original, has been a point of debate since the recent rise of online search engines. Does seeing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” through the Google Art Project reduce the emotional value of the actual, physical painting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City? Do online platforms deter people from going to see the actual piece of art? There is little doubt that such a new and extensive undertaking by Google will have a large impact on the art industry. The easier access could bring more people, especially people who are not normally interested in going to museums, into the art industry and encourage more people to go to these museums.
On the website, you can search by museum collection (you can also limit your search by continent), by artist name, by randomly scrolling through all 32,000 images in the gallery or by using a search function. The last section of the website is called “User Galleries,” where anyone with a free Google account can make a social media page filled with his favorite pieces of art from the project, essentially compiling his own virtual curatorial project.
Scrolling your mouse over a piece of art displays the title, date, place of creation and museum location. When you click on a piece, the artwork is enlarged in an extremely high-resolution shot, illustrating every last detail. Lastly, similar to Google Earth’s Street View where you are virtually taken to street level on a map, the Google Art Project allows viewers to obtain a panoramic view of the specific piece in the actual museum that it belongs to, giving viewers the most realistic, contextual experience without actually being there.
But the Google Art Project has its limitations. First off, the project could lessen the aura of the real painting, reducing the number of people going to the real place. Seeing the work of art online may actually make seeing the work in person less valuable, since people have already seen it online.
Furthermore, world-renowned museums, such as the Louvre in Paris, the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul and all but one Swiss museum have declined Google’s offer to participate in the project. If museums of such high regard refuse to put up their art collections, Google will not have a complete project.
Additionally, if only 40 countries are represented, that leaves out art from about 160 other countries throughout the world. These countries absence will detract from the project’s platform of representing all cultures and nations.
In response to concerns that a project like this would deter people from wanting to travel to see the real work of art, Amit Sood, Google Project Leader for the Google Arts Project said in The Washington Post that “nothing beats the first person experience.” Google, knowing full well that the idea of the real versus the copy has been debated since the invention of the Internet, wanted to assure museums that the project would not decrease their number of visitors.
In fact Sam Quigley, vice president of collections management, imaging and information technology at the Art Institute in Chicago said in The Chicago Tribune, “Everyone worries that when we publish something, [people] won’t want to come to the museum. It’s the opposite. The more we put works of art in public venues, it seems to have a positive impact on people coming to see the real thing.” People with no previous interest in art who view the Google Art Project online, may decide that they wish to go to a museum to see the art piece in person or even venture out to see something new.