Google unveils online ‘Art Project’ but bestows new technology mainly on Old World museums


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Aiming to open the world’s art collections to online viewers, Google today unveiled the Google Art Project, a website that allows visitors to see more than 1,000 works by 486 artists, take virtual 360-degree tours of galleries, and zoom in for extreme close-up views to inspect a great artist’s brushwork.

But Google’s masters of new technology began by taking a distinctly Old World view of art: Of the 17 museums in the Google Art Project, 13 are in Europe. In America, none of the art on view is housed west of Manhattan or the Potomac River, which means no exposure for museums in Google’s home state of California.


If it’s the thought that counts, Google, based in Mountain View in the Bay Area, was neighborly enough to invite the nearby Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the De Young and the Legion of Honor) to be part of the Art Project, museum spokeswoman Jill Lynch said, ‘but due to scheduling conflicts we were unable. We hope that our exhibition schedule will permit us to work with them in the next round.’

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was not approached to participate, spokeswoman Miranda Carroll said; a Getty Museum spokeswoman told a Times reporter that she hadn’t heard yet about Google’s online initiative and would check whether the Getty had been invited. (Updated, 5:55 p.m.: the Getty confirmed that it was not invited or contacted, either.)

The four United States museums involved are New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Frick Collection and in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art. Otherwise, the project focuses on two museums each in Madrid, Berlin, London and Amsterdam, and one each in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, Prague and Florence.

Many museums around the world have made a priority in recent years of making their collections available on their websites, albeit not typically with a virtual tour of actual galleries. The extreme close-up technology that’s one of Google’s new wrinkles is available for one artwork picked by each museum.

‘You can now see art as never before,’ the narrator begins on the Google Art Project’s video visitors’ guide, and he ends with an invitation to ‘take a trip around the world’s greatest museums, and discover the masters.’ The project has been 18-months aborning, Google announced; a spokeswoman for the company said Tuesday that it aims to add more museums as time goes on but said there was no information about the timetable for expansion.

“It’s our first step toward making great art more accessible,” Google staffer Amit Sood, who conceived of and heads the Google Art Project, wrote in a blog post announcing it. The company spokeswoman said Sood is based in London and comes from Google’s marketing department.


Sood ended his introductory note with the thought that “we hope the Google Art Project gives you a fun and unusual way to interact with art –- and hopefully inspires you to visit the real thing.”

Janet Landay, executive director of the New York-based Assn. of Art Museum Directors, which represents museums across North America, said Tuesday that she had little knowledge of Google’s project and aimed to talk to member museums about their response. “Certainly we’d like more representation of our [North American] museums,” she said when asked about the Euro- and Northeast corridor-centric approach of what Google unveiled.

-- Mike Boehm


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