Why do artists make art? So it is hanged to death off the museum’s barren-most wall, or imprisoned in a gilt-edged frame and allowed to communicate with its visitors via signage on a copper plaque?
In 2011, the Google Art Project challenged the economy of art appreciation, by offering the masses enormous and immediate access. This is a museum of museums, which displays high-resolution pictures of more than 32,000 artworks from 46 museums. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kampa in Czech Republic, Museo Reina Sofia from Spain, The Palace of Versailles, Rome’s Capitoline, Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery are some of them. The artworks have been photographed using Google’s Street View 360-degree-camera that offers nearly 1,000 times more clarity than an average digital camera and allows a zoom of up to a billion pixels. The website lets people stare at art in their own pace, in the privacy of their own thoughts, letting them seep so much into Van Gogh’s Starry Night that the cracks between the yellow paint floating in the sea-like sky are visible, revealing to the naked eye the ordinary humanness in the painter’s imagination.The platform incorporates Google’s URL abbreviator (Goo.gl) and lets users save and share their personal collections.
Amit Sood, who heads the project, says museum visits didn’t feature in his growing up years in India. “Extract whatever you can out of art, there is no age, no community, no class barrier that stops you,” he tells the world.
The project has enriched itself with material from 10 new partner institutions from India: Salar Jung Museum, Victoria Memorial Hall Kolkata, Dastkari Haat Samiti, Devi Art Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, Kalakriti Archives, Heritage Transport Museum, Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres & Ashrams, and the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute.
How has this helped? “We now know that a map entitled ‘India and the Middle East’ from 1596 changed the course of history,” says Simon Rein, product manager at the Google Cultural Institute. What the project has brought to the fore is that the Portuguese long held a monopoly over trade with India thanks to their closely guarded maps and sailing expertise until Huyghen Van Linschoten, a Dutch merchant, gained access to sensitive Portuguese documents.
“The exhibit from the Kalakriti Archives tells this fascinating story of espionage, which led to the formation of the British East India Company in 1600, the Dutch Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie in 1602, and soon, the dismantling of the Portuguese trade monopoly,” discloses Rein.
The marbled painting entitled ‘Rustam captures the horse Rakhsh’, which dates to the 17th century, is another interesting find. Housed in the National Museum in Delhi, it is one of only pieces signed by Persian artist Shafi.
To cross-share the content, these museums are launching mobile apps built by the Cultural Institute. The Google app now indicates artworks in nearby museums on mobile devices. From the Now card, one can view the painting via the Institute’s website or get directions to the museum. Using Chromecast, one can project artworks in the Cultural Institute onto a TV screen, and turn the Chrome browser into a digital canvas with the Chrome tab.
Art might be restless and stubborn but technology knows how to seduce it. Look how they’re sticking together for survival.