Google Art Project: Accessibility and Close Looking

Google Art Project, which launched on February 1, is touted as Google Street View indoors. Art Project presents gallery views from 17 major international institutions—from the Met and MoMA to the Hermitage to Tate Britain—which let visitors explore a 360-degree panorama of almost 400 different rooms throughout the museums. Google plans to include more institutions and more works of art as the project evolves.

In addition to gallery views, each participating institution selected one signature to present in remarkably high resolution. These works, presented in “gigapixel” detail, bring paintings like Chris Ofili’s “No Woman No Cry” at Tate Britain to the screen with 7-billion-pixel resolution—allowing viewers to pan and zoom in closer than any museum guard would ever permit. It’s an approach that pairs well with art critic and historian James Elkin’s recently launched series on close and careful observation at the Huffington Post. Elkin’s first column focused on a Mondrian at the Art Institute of Chicago and encourages readers to look at brush strokes where colors meet and other extremely minute details. Art Project’s gigapixel images are excellent practice grounds for that level of exploration.

Some museum traditionalists, including Alastair Sook at The Telegraph, seem to suggest that Google wants to replace a museum experience with an online one. But just as photographic reproductions didn’t eliminate the lure of the authentic object, there is no reason to believe that digital reproductions will do so either. Presumably the many museums that have put their collections online in the last decade don’t believe that either.

Amit Sood, the head developer on Art Project, puts it this way in the Google Blog:

[We] got together to think about how we might use our technology to help museums make their art more accessible—not just to regular museum-goers or those fortunate to have great galleries on their doorsteps, but to a whole new set of people who might otherwise never get to see the real thing up close.

Eliza Murphy, writing for the Atlantic, validates that goal. She remembers an art history professor who often reminded his students that they couldn’t possibly understand a work of art until they saw it in person and writes, “Thank you, Google Art Project, for saving us all from pretentious museum buffs worldwide. Just because I have not yet had the privilege of visiting all of the best art-holding institutions, does not mean that I am any less of an enthusiast than those that are older and better traveled.”

Decide for yourself at