Posts Tagged ‘Google Art Project’

Google Art Project

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

And why should an artist be expected to travel to other continents to see the artwork that defined his or her legacy? The artist needs time to focus on making artwork, not standing in TSA lines at the airport. Finally, the artwork can come to the artist, even if grants, press, and sales do not. The Google Art Project makes this possible.

Band of Outsiders, 1964

For the Google Art Project (GAP?), 17 museums in the U.S. and Europe allowed the Google Street View cameras out of the streets and into the galleries, where rickshaw drivers steered the panoptic apparatuses from room to room. The result is to art what the Hubble telescope is to the cosmos.

After advancing through the museum you’ve selected, you can then zoom into the microscopic innerspace of a few dozen great works from each collection. Bonus: Google has photographed with a billion-pixel camera one key artwork selected from each museum. Zoom and zoom and zoom to observe the thread count of George Gisze’s tablecloth. Check for fleas on the background dog of Vittore Carpaccio’s Young Knight in a Landscape. Enjoy art from a proton’s point of view.

Detail from Holbein's The Ambassadors

Obviously, viewing art on a monitor is no substitute for a visit in the flesh. But it is a good supplement. Then again, if the billion-pixel photo reveals more detail than your eyes could alone, then maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the primacy of a digitally mediated viewing, which presumably takes place in a comfortable living space, free of aimless tourists from Nebraska, unblinded by oppressive glare from overhead lamps, unhindered by guards warning us not to stand too close, and “No photos, please. Sir! No photos, please.” Moreover, the virtual museums charge no admission fees and are open 24 hours.

My art historian barista says of the GAP, “It may contribute to the fetishizing of the museum in the minds of students, as if this inherently decontextualized (or rather recontextualizing) space is the original habitat of the paintings.” Good point, though each entry in the GAP includes, along with the hi res image, a sidebar that includes “Viewing Notes,” “Artwork History,” “Media,” and more. “Media” rounds up useful youtube videos with behind-the-scenes explorations of the artwork and interviews with museum professionals. Together, these cubby holes of information can guide a viewer interested in such issues as provenance. If the artwork was originally commissioned as an altarpiece, that fact would likely come up in the sidebar notes.

What I wonder more deeply is what this means for more recent art history. Presumably, the Google database will expand, adding new objects and institutions on a regular basis. How will conceptual artists fare? Often, it doesn’t matter what the conceptual “object,” or lack thereof, looks like. I don’t mean that you don’t have to see it, I just mean that it doesn’t matter what your photoreceptors and optic nerves process. Por ejemplo, the specifications of Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965) are limited to the exhibition format, but not the chair itself. If that’s actually true, and not just my craftsman-biased projection, then won’t conceptual, dematerialized art get mired in the low-priority folders? Because if it doesn’t matter what it looks like, then zooming in is pointless, and shouldn’t waste the Google resources. Nevertheless, the participating museums are designating which artworks will be featured, so we can leave it to them – and not the Google empire – to manage art history. Right?