LACMA, Getty among 134 museums joining Google’s art site


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Google knows something about the power in numbers, even in an art website.

Google Art Project, which launched last year with virtual tours and digitized artworks from 17 museums, has added 134 new museums to its site, including four from California.

Initially, no museums from the state were included in the project; now the Getty Museum, the L.A. County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the De Young Museum in San Francisco are participating.


Other newcomers in the U.S. include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., the Rubin Museum in New York, and the White House.
New partners from outside the U.S. include the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art in Brazil, the Musée d’Orsay in France, the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico, Islamic Museum of Qatar, and the National Museum of Indonesia, just to name a few. Altogether, 40 countries are now represented.

This expansion addresses early complaints from cultural critics that the site was too Eurocentric and Old Masters-heavy, because of offerings from such venerable institutions as the Frick Collection and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Uffizi in Florence, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the National Gallery in London.

According to Diana Skaar, head of partnerships for the project, Google was also responding directly to other museums’ desire to take part. “After the launch of round one, we got an overwhelming response from museums worldwide. So for round two, we really wanted to balance regional museums with those that are more nationally or globally recognized,” she said. In all cases, the museums supply Google with high-resolution digital images of selected artworks. (For the White House, this will include paintings as well as porcelain from the China Room.) In some cases, the Getty’s included, Google also sends trolleys rigged with cameras, lasers and GPS devices to the museum galleries to shoot footage that will ultimately give the user a navigable, virtual tour like the popular “street view” function on Google Maps.

Skaar said the site, which started with about 1,000 objects, now has 30,000 artworks, including additional works from some of the original partners.

Skaar declined to say which galleries and artworks receive the most visitors or provide any other metrics about popularity. Numbers she would provide: 20 million visitors have found the site so far, and 200,000 user “collections” — by which the visitor saves favorite images for future viewing or sharing — have been created. There is evidence that teachers of all grades use the site in the classroom, she said.

The museums themselves determine their degree of participation. The Getty alone has contributed 3,000 works, from antiquities located in its villa near Malibu to European paintings from the Getty Center in Brentwood. Yes, you can get a close look at blockbuster paintings like Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 “Irises” and J.M.W. Turner’s 1839 “Modern Rome — Campo Vaccino” as well as some outdoor works like Charles Ray’s 2009 sculpture “Boy With Frog.” No, the central garden designed by artist Robert Irwin — arguably his most popular installation ever — was not included.


LACMA has made a contribution of 100 works spanning the centuries, including its 6th century Japanese terra cotta sculpture known as the Haniwa Horse, a 17th century Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe and 19th century paintings by Monet and Pissarro. It has also contributed one sizable outdoor artwork: Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” from 2008, the lamppost installation that greets visitors to the museum on Wilshire Boulevard, is part of the Google site. (For more outdoor artworks, also look for a mural by the graffiti team Os Gemeos provided by the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo.)

SFMOMA has chosen 26 works, including a classic David Park painting, “Two Bathers” from 1958, and a recent installation by the street-smart, graffiti-inspired artist Barry McGee. Also of interest: a handful of detailed landscape or cityscape photographs, such as images of Yosemite by Eadweard Muybridge and Carleton Watkins and a 1938 print of San Francisco by Brett Weston.

The De Young has provided the site with 31 works, all American paintings. Highlights include Frederic Edwin Church’s lush, proto-surreal 1866 painting of a double rainbow, “Rainy Season in the Tropics”; John Singer Sargent’s darkly fashionable 1884 “Le verre de porto (A Dinner Table at Night)”; and Robert Henri’s dramatic, full-length portrait “Lady in Black With Spanish Scarf (O in Black With a Scarf),” 1910.

Of the California museums, only the Getty has received a visit from that special trolley, allowing visitors to take a navigable tour of the galleries. It is also the only California museum to have a “gigapixel” artwork presented on the site — a digital image that you can view in microscopic detail.

The work the Getty chose for gigapixel treatment is Rembrandt’s “The Abduction of Europa” from 1632. A painting that shows the princess Europa being carried away by Zeus or Jupiter in the form of a white bull, it represents one of Rembrandt’s rare forays into mythology.

James Cuno, the head of the Getty Trust, said the painting was ripe for this kind of extreme close-up because “it’s in spectacular condition, it’s small and detailed and gemlike, and it represents the master at his most refined.”


“It was painted with such attention to detail that it really rewards being able to get close up into the hair of Europa, to see the expression of fear on her face, or to look deeper into the water in the landscape,” he said.


Google bestows new technology mainly on old-world museums

Interview with James Cuno, Getty’s new head, his first week on the job

‘Urban Light’ lights up the screen

--Jori Finkel