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“The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli. From the Google Art Project.




A new museum in town, sort of
Google Art Project is a virtual trip to big sites

03/10/11



The world of art has just gotten smaller. Google recently launched its Art Project, which takes art fans inside some of the greatest museums in the world. And, while nothing can ever replicate seeing a masterpiece in person, the Google Art Project is the next best thing.

So far only the biggest museums, like the National Gallery in London and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, are available for perusal. Like the street view on Google Maps, the Google Art Project allows viewers a look inside the galleries. This way they can see not only the masterpiece, like “The Birth of Venus” in the Uffizi, but also the paintings that surround it. When you “Explore the Museum” it puts you in the middle of the room, which allows you to move closer to the works of art. This replicates the feeling of walking up to an art piece and seeing it for the first time, which is a special experience.

“There is something about approaching a piece of art work that is almost mystical,” said Sarah Chaffee, gallery director at McGowan Fine Art in Concord. “There is nothing quite like walking up to a piece and having it come into focus. You can do that with this tool. That is what makes it different than seeing an image in a book, which I still love.”

Chaffee, who thinks the Google Art Project is marvelous, said it allows viewers to see how the museum hangs its pieces, which is a deliberate and purposeful process. It also allows the viewer to see the surrounding architecture.

“There is a lot of thought and money that goes into the architecture at art museums,” Chaffee said.

The Google Art Project, www.googleartproject.com, also allows the viewer access to additional information.  When looking at an art piece, if the viewer clicks on “i” for information, they can find viewing notes, which give cool tidbits about the work, and read about the artwork’s history, the artist, other works by the artist and other works in the museum.

What many local artists love about the project is the access it provides for people who may not otherwise have the means to see these art works.

“I am a huge fan of the Google Art Project, as it makes some of the finest collections of art accessible to everybody with an Internet connection,” artist Ryan Haywood wrote via e-mail. “It is a remarkably ambitious program, in that you can actually take a virtual tour of these museums. More over, you can select a specific painting and zoom in to an unbelievably high resolution view. I think this will be a great tool for educators as well.”

While the Google Art Project is a huge step forward from seeing a piece of art in a book, the artists did note it does not compare to the real thing.

“It will not replace seeing it in person because the vibrancy of pigments used simply can not be reproduced by print or a computer screen,” Haywood said. “Sometimes the paint just glows, and it’s amazing.”

And while seeing a piece of art work on the Google Art Project allows viewers a chance to see works they might not ever see in person, they must remember the image they see may be different than the original.

“A photograph of a famous and beautiful art piece is great for archiving and recording purposes; however, you get no idea of what the colors actually are (people’s monitors are set to different gammas and white points and a variety of other variables)... You can’t really see individual strokes or the translucency of paint or medium; where an artist may have made a mistake and then covered it up, but time and the breakdown of materials causing this blunder to be revealed,” wrote artist Aimee Cozza via e-mail.

New Hampshire’s most famous art museum, the Currier Museum of Art, is not currently on the list. In fact, of U.S. museums only the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art — both in New York City — and the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian are available. Vicky Jaffe, public relations and marketing manager at the Currier, said the museum doesn’t know yet whether it will participate in the future. Even if it doesn’t, much of the Currier’s collection is already available on its website, www.currier.org. The reason: accessibility. Which is why so many people support the Google Art Project.

“Sometimes I think I’ll never in my lifetime get to the Hermitage [The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia],” Chaffee said. “Now I can and it’s a lot cheaper.”






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