Google Art Project: Tour des Artes

Over a decade ago, I had the privilege of studying in Madrid, Spain. Part of the cultural experience living abroad was being able to visit some of Europe’s most renowned museums with ease. On my way home from class, I’d frequently hop on the metro and skip over to el Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza so that I could gaze at my favorite Dalí painting (Sueño causado por el vuelo de una abeja alrededor de una granada un segundo) and linger in silence. Dalí’s famous work always drew large and stifling crowds during the weekend, which I preferred to avoid. During school holidays, I’d visit the LouvreMusée RodinUffizi Gallery, and The British Museum – just to name a few. I relished that period when I had the time to leisurely visit so many incredible places.

Fast-forward to 2011. Although I still enjoy traveling, I just don’t have the chance to explore “world-class” museums like before. Truthfully, I spend more time at museums today than I used to because of the nature of my work. However, a visit to one of the “great” museums with legendary masterpieces does not happen as often as I would like.

Last week, Google launched the Art Project, an interactive tool that allows viewers to virtually wander through 17 of the world’s most famous art museums. Similar to the functionality of Google’s Street View, the user has the ability zoom, rotate, and pan to peruse the galleries, privately explore the celebrated works of art, and scrutinize details that one might not ordinarily be privy to — due to crowds or strict security guards. I have to admit that I find the Art Project a bit dizzying at times with all of the motion and movement, but overall, it’s a pretty wondrous visual experience.

To me, what makes Google’s Art Project groundbreaking is the way that these exclusive institutions around the globe have made their fine art accessible to anybody at any time, for free. Formerly reserved for the elite, these notorious museum collections are now wide open to the general public.

According to Roberta Smith’s New York Times article, The Work of Art in the Age of Google:

The Art Project has been hailed as a great leap forward in terms of the online art experience… Google offers a distinct and extraordinary benefit in its United Nations-like gathering of different collections under one technological umbrella, enabling easy online travel among them.

In addition, Google’s Art Project provides opportunities for art history and fine arts studies, which can be usefully woven into classroom curriculum (as outlined in today’s New York Times Learning Blog post Real vs. Virtual: Examining Works of Art Online).

Of course, Google’s new tool isn’t the same as visiting these museums in real life. But if I ever feel like dropping by the Hermitage in Moscow during my lunch break on a Monday afternoon, nothing is going to stop me!