Why Google Art Project is good

February 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm Leave a comment

By Aviv Katz

Last night I noticed that Google launched a new initiative: the Google Art Project . The website allows anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, to take virtual tours around some of the most important art museums in the world, and to view art pieces at high resolution. In theory, this could be argued to be one of those liberating initiatives that provide equal access to what used to be the privilege of the few. Much like public museums themselves, which over the past two centuries have been acquiring artistic treasures for public consumption.

I was reminded of Bordieu’s Distinction, which I read at uni many years ago and which opened my eyes to the way in which cultural and aesthetic preferences, or ‘taste’, have wider social meaning for groups as they assert their status, dominance or affiliation within society. A visit to the museum (a real visit, not virtual) is so much more than the sum of those pieces of art. The reason museums such as Tate Modern (which is not featured on the website) draw millions of visitors every year has less to do with the importance of the art that is on display than with the experience and meaning that a visit to this particular museum brings to its visitors.

I commend Google Art Project for opening up this information and making it accessible and fun to browse. They have taken the approach that rather than create an international catalogue of artwork that is searchable by name, style or artist there should be meaning to the museum in which the art is exhibited. This is a great step in the right direction, because so few museum visitors actually engage with the meaning of the museum – seeing it as a benign container of objects and tourist amenities. It’s a shame that as virtual tourists we are denied the amazing views from the Uffizi Gallery’s windows onto the centre of Florence, never mind the smells and sounds of the place. And of course seeing the art in real life is not quite the same thing. Nevertheless, the I hope that the Google Art Project will viewers the tools to looks beyond the objects and consider curatorial decisions, think about the narrative of museums, their histories, their politics, and through them understand the societies that built them as they are.

What would be really great is if over time the site recorded changes to the position of the pieces of art, so that we could scroll back and forward in time and get a sense of the changes that have been made.


Entry filed under: Just for fun.

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