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17 museums, 9 countries, 486 artists

This great new resource, the Google Art Project, launched yesterday, captures work from 17 museums, 9 countries, 385 gallery rooms, 1,000 high-resolution artworks (7 to 14 billion pixels), and 486 artists.

Van Gogh's bedroom Arles

Google have used similar software to zoom in on images as they have on maps, and certainly it pays off. The Google Maps ‘Street view’ has also been adopted to enable you to wander around the rooms of world-famous galleries such as ‘Tate Britain‘, the ‘Van Gogh Museum‘ and New York’s ‘Met’.  The new project was reviewed on the Telegraph website which includes a video review.   You can also create personal collections of the available artwork, such as: http://goo.gl/4GM6d for the creation of catalogues.  However, a word of caution:   only a small proportion of works from each collection is available in high-resolution.  Several world class galleries are not involved in this project, such as the Prado, and hence some world class art is missing: take Las Meninas by Velasquez for example.  Overall though, I favour this democratization of art, as long as it doesn’t mean people stop visiting national collections of art.  Google may bring a sample of art works to us, and we may be able to zoom in to a level that the naked eye in front of the painting we cannot do, but still there is nothing like standing in front of an exquisite painting and absorbing its glory.


Posted by author: Jane Parry
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2 thoughts on “17 museums, 9 countries, 486 artists

  • As I was looking out of the window today, watching the rain lash across the Pennines, I thought wouldn’t it be nice to spend an afternoon in Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York. So I did.
    At the click of a button I stepped straight into the fifth floor of MoMA into a slightly pixelated and bleached out view of an completely empty gallery space – certainly not my experience of visiting a very busy MoMA a few years ago, but at least I could see all the paintings. I moved through the gallery by clicking on navigational buttons that took me from one view to another. Like Google Map’s Street View these steps blur as you wait for the next image to load, not quite creating the smooth visual experience you would hope for, but you still get a sense of moving through a space.
    In front of the painting Le Rêve by Henri Rousseau, I was initially frustrated that I couldn’t line up the painting properly, but by clicking on a small + icon I went straight into a flat representation of the painting from which I could then zoom into a very detailed photograph. Alongside the painting were viewing notes, audio commentary and links to other information about the artist.
    Meanwhile back in the gallery I found myself slightly unnerved by being the only visitor and slightly distracted by the ability to view the layout of the gallery’s ceiling. After a bit of wandering about I did manage to find two blurred out gallery staff in a room full of forbidden paintings and sculptures and when I clicked on a button to visit the lower floor I realised there was loads of other blurred out people waiting for me. I followed the navigation to the front door and stepped straight into the hustle and bustle of West 53rd Street. A nice interactive connect.
    So does it work as a gallery experience? Well, I didn’t really get away from the rain but I did get to look at some paintings in detail and get a sense of how each of the rooms were themed. At the moment there is a limited range of galleries and artworks on offer but I imagine Google is planning on develop this project further, working with more institutions and representing more artworks. I suppose this then raises the issue over whether such projects start to undermine the actual experience of visiting a real gallery, especially with pressure on institutions to show a relationship between visitor numbers and funding.
    Right, I’m off to the State Hermitage Museum in Moscow for the first time, see you there.

  • Hi Christian,
    As you’ve noted, there are some limitations (and annoyances) to the ‘Google Gallery’ experience – I was thwarted in my attempt to create a ‘Collection’ by images just showing up as black in the navigation. But I think it’s a step in the right direction in terms of opening up galleries to people who otherwise would be physically unable to do so.
    Google had a similar project running a while ago which used the full 3D environment of Google Earth to create an entire museum (Madrid’s Prado). While it was far more impressive than this current incarnation in terms of visual quality, I imagine it will take a year or two for most people’s broadband connections to be able to run it at an adequate speed. To take a look at this project (and to see a video on how they take the high-res photographs), go to: http://www.google.com/intl/en/landing/prado/

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