Google Arts

Google Art Project: Art At Your Fingertips

Ana B. Remos

In addition to the collections currently on public view in museums and other art spaces, Google Art Project shows works belonging to private collectors, which are not normally available to the public.

Lately we’ve been able to access all the art created throughout the history of mankind just by clicking a few keys on our desktop, even our Ipad. This digital phenomenon is called Google Art Project, and to date, it contains 32,000 works of art from an impressive list of museums and galleries. The list will continue to grow and feed itself, sort of like Wikipedia. The notion that not many people can possibly visit all the major museums and collections of the world, prompted Google’s ideas about the “democratization” of culture.

Currently the site features 184 collections from more than 151 institutions in more than 40 countries, including sculptures, paintings, photographs, and urban art. The catalog contains, for example, 180 works from MoMA in New York, 59 from the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid; 27 from the Thyssen Museum, also in Madrid, 159 works from TATE Britain in London, 174 works from the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, 255 pieces from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, 181 from the National Art Gallery of Art in Washington, and 22 works from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. In addition to collections currently on public view in museums and other art spaces, Google Art Project shows works belonging to private collectors, which are not normally available to the public.

Google Art Project uses a camera with a resolution of 7,000 megapixels, which brings the viewer closer than ever to their favorite artworks, almost like being there. To truly appreciate the camera’s phenomenal performance let´s compare: the camera of the Iphone 5 has 8 Megapixels and takes good photos. Imagine what you could do with 7,000 megapixels. The camera is similar to the one Google uses for its Street View map concept.

If you are passionate about the visual arts, and one of your dreams is to visit the main art galleries of the world, visiting Google Art for the first time will make you feel that unique emotion that comes when one faces, for the first time, a piece by El Greco or Van Gogh.

The visitor will not just see photographs of paintings and sculptures, but will be able to virtually enter the museum. A floor plan will show the hall where the artwork is displayed (very helpful if you are planning to visit the museum), and we could “walk” into the room, move the camera, zoom in and out; and stay as long as we want, observing one single piece from our desired perspective.

This project, which has the approval of the museums featured (it could not be otherwise), raises some reserve about this notion of “democratization”, and about offering the enjoyment of culture at zero cost.

It is not a good argument. Those interested in visiting the museums won’t stop doing so just because the works they want to see may be featured in Google Art Project or, even, on the museums’ websites, as it was the case until the start of this project. It might even be a motivation, in the same way that a visit New York continues to be attractive, even if you have Google Maps on your phone.

However, and for now, Google Art Project has a small drawback: its omissions. With luck, the problem will be eventually solved. Google Art Project does not contain all the works from the museums it features, nor does it include all the great museums of the world. It contains a selection of works, halls, and museums that have agreed to take part in the project. You may not find the piece you want to view, or the hall you want to visit, but this project represents a commitment, even if tepid, from the museums that have agreed to be part of Google Art Project.


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