Look Deep Into Museum Works With Google’s Art Project

Van gogh's 'The Starry Night' : Museum of Modern Art
Google has become so ubiquitous that each day when I see the company’s name slathered all over the nation’s business sections, my brain sort of skips over it like it does with the words “the,” “a,” and “Justin Bieber.” Just type “Google” into, um, Google, and see what I mean: Google News returns 64,458 search results — and that’s just from today.

Living on Planet Google can be irritating. The other day I thought, boy not only have some of those people made more money than four generations of my family cumulatively, but the last time I checked the street view of my house on Google Maps you could zoom right into my window to see I hadn’t vacuumed in a month.

Which is all to say that Google’s initial release of its latest online tool, called Art Project, is really cool. Google! I just can’t quit you…

Here’s what the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote about Art Project yesterday:

If art is among your full-blown obsessions or just a budding interest, Google, which has already altered the collective universe in so many ways, changed your life last week. It unveiled its Art Project, a Web endeavor that offers easy, if not yet seamless, access to some of the art treasures and interiors of 17 museums in the United States and Europe.

It is very much a work in progress, full of bugs and information gaps, and sometimes blurry, careering virtual tours. But it is already a mesmerizing, world-expanding tool for self-education. You can spend hours exploring it, examining paintings from far off and close up, poking around some of the world’s great museums all by your lonesome…

In the case of van Gogh’s famous “Bedroom,” the star painting chosen by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I was able to scrutinize the five framed artworks depicted on the chamber’s walls: two portraits, one still life and two works, possibly on paper, that are so cursory they look like contemporary abstractions. And I was enthralled by the clarity of the star painting of the National Gallery in London, Hans Holbein’s “Ambassadors,” and especially by the wonderful pile of scientific instruments — globes, sun dials, books — that occupy the imposing two-tiered stand flanked by the two young gentlemen…

The chance to look closely at paintings, especially, as made things, really to study the way artists construct an image on a flat surface, is amazing, and great practice for looking at actual works…

What I like best: When I zoomed really far in on one impasto brush stroke in van Gogh’s Starry Night, I was able to touch my monitor without being tackled by a museum guard.

A round-up of views on Art Project by the critics at Artinfo.com

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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