Van Gogh's The Bedroom in Google Art Project

by • 13 Feb, 2011 • Technology, Thoughts about museumsComments (11)18524

How the Google Art Project might revolutionize the physical museum experience

There were people who said the iPhone and iPad would fail. There’s even a wonderful article about how the Internet will fail from 1995. If the invention of the writing press had preceded the invention of the wheel, I’m sure we would still be reading naysayers elaborate bashing of easy transportation. Today I’m reading a lot of stuff about the Google Art Project not delivering.

Sure, not everything Google touches turns to gold (remember Google Wave?). However, like any future Apple iThing it’s silly to underestimate the impact a Google product will have on a sector. Their marketing budget, distribution channels and development budgets are simply no match for any well-intentioned alternative.

Let’s do a thought experiment and presume the Google Art Project will revolutionize the museum experience the way the iPad will change the publishing industry. Below are six complaints about the Google Art Project I’ve heard most often. What will happen if these become standard practice in our physical museums (which, as I hope to have proven by now, they very well might).

  1. Navigation: The navigation in Google Art Project apparently sucks. In fact, it’s much like finding your way through an endless number of strangely connected galleries, but with the option of going to your desired gallery immediately. Beat that, big 19th century building. Google Art Project will have your audience want to choose highly individual routes through your museum, jumping from room A to room Z back to K to see what they want to see. Just like on the computer.
  2. Zoom: Artists never meant for people to see their works at the resolution Google Art Project presents them, they say. I say if so many people are writing about it, there must be something to it. Rather than putting their noses so close to the canvas the guards blow their whistles, soon visitors will expect museums to offer the opportunity to zoom in and out at will with everything they have on display. And turn that ancient vase around to see the back. And bottom. Just like on the computer.
  3. The real thing: There’s this persistent believe that ‘the real thing’ is endlessly more meaningful to the average visitor than a facsimile. Google Art Project, of course, does not show the real thing. Even worse: with a little bit of imagination (in another open tab) you can immediately compare the painting on the wall with the work that inspired it from an entirely different museum, or even depot. Horrible! In museums, next to that original artefact, people will want to see related works, even if they’re only available as virtual copies. Just like on the computer.
  4. Limited information: Google Art Project has done a pretty good job in providing as much information about an artwork as a museum does on their plaques. Additionally it links to meaningful online resources, which are evidently chosen carefully. Thank god. Google knows better than anybody else it’s not the quantity of information that matters; it’s the quality. They earned gazillions understanding that. Museum will start providing just the information visitors want to have, and nothing else. Just like on the computer.
  5. Social: It’s kind of quiet in the Google Art Project galleries. Also, there’s hardly any means of interaction with the art or the information. Point taken. Google is better at information than interaction as their many attempts to create a buzz show. To make Google Art Project more social, let’s just wait for them to buy a service that already does so.
  6. It’s Google and Google is evil: They will limit the possibilities to Google services, require Google accounts for interaction and when they go for world domination (real, evil, tights-and-capes world domination) they can close our virtual museums just like that. True. Google’s a commercial organisation. But since when has a museum’s dependence on external sources been a limitation? Museums are dependent anyway. Google Art Project might offer enormous opportunities for many museums to work together with a source of funding that can afford 1.8 billion $ offices. In a bright future, many things in our physical museum will go with the Doodle. Just like on the computer.

Google Art Project might just change a bit more than the way we enjoy art online. And we should not look away. More harm has been done by underestimating innovation than by embracing it. Especially when the innovation comes from parties such as Google. Looking forward to a Google Art Project Physical Museum.

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