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Street View Indoors – Google Art Projet Brings Museums and Artworks Online

Google Street view is now continuing inside, at least for some of the words most important museums. Using the same technology Google has started the Google Art Project, making museums virtually accessible. Together with the indoor navigation a selection of paintings can also be seen and navigated in a Google Maps style in great detail. You can get up very close to Chris Ofilli’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ at the Tate Britain. Close enough to see the individual dots of paint. In this case you can even switch to night view mode to see the fluorescent second layer of the painting. This of course applies also for all the other paintings marked with a pus sign, were you can study the details of Van Gogh’s brush stroke for example.

Image taken from the Google Art Project / Chris Ofilli’s No Woman No Cry at the Tate Britain in London, United Kingdom.

Earlier, back in 2008 the Kremer Collection was one of the first to offer such a detailed look at paintings using the Google Maps style navigation and zoom function. The software used back then was the ImgeCutter software developed at CASA.

There is currently quite a lot of development going on with these digital visualisation and visiing technologies. From video street view to panoramic street view with street slides of bing maps, featured last week on digital urban.

Image taken from the Google Art Project / Detail of Chris Ofilli’s No Woman No Cry at the Tate Britain in London, United Kingdom. See the night view HERE.

After the Street View Project and earlier the Slope View for the Winter Games in Vancouver this is now a further step applying the technology in large public buildings.
It does require a bit of patience and an effort for not losing the orientation, since the museums network of possible routes is a lot more complicated than the roads. This is mainly down to distance and size. almost wich each click new route choices apply, this will keep you on your toes. In comparison the street view is relaxed with sometimes many clicks between crossroads.

However, the new project lets you browse 385 rooms in 17 galleries, and see more than 1,000 works by 486 artists. This includes galeries such as the National Gallery in London, the Tate Britain, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Image taken from the Google Art Project / A visit to the Palace of Versailles, France on the Google Art Project.

Google seems very interested in getting many different aspects of ‘knowledge’ represented through their technologies and after the Book Project this is now the art project. Of course the paintings remain property of their owners and remain copyright projected but are virtually accessible through this Google Service.

These copyright issues seem still very constraining. Some of the museums have surprisingly little rooms accesible on the database so far. It is unclear whether this project will extend and in what time frame. If you peak through doorways into rooms that are not accessible on this virtual tour the buildings are blurred as known from the Street View. This looks rather disturbing, probably more so than in the street scenes.

Ultimately notable is the change in design stile. It is a great relief to see that Google has adopted different style for this project and not using the comic, round edge, many colour approach that has become iconic for their brand. It would have been ridiculous to show these works in such a context. The only thing they coud not get to follow this new style is the page icon displayed in the browser tab.

On the navigation side, Google has decided to drop the view lines used in Street view. For this indoor version the user only has arrows to click on. There are usually is or eight arrows used for one point to allow for more detailed navigation. However, it is still difficult to just move slightly to one side and look beyond this annoying pillar, as for example in the State Hermitage main gallery. In general the navigation is much more free than experienced before and also works by just clicking on a doorway to get into the next room. The session will also remember the previous location in each museum. If you decide to look at some other paintings you can always jump back were you have left off, quite helpful.

Google has also added additional navigation features such as foor plans. As well as contextual information to the museum and the art work in a side frame. It is also possible to create a personal art collection by adding paintings to the collection. And Google has also embedded a sort of a social tool, where people can start a discussion about paintings by leaving comment.

However, with the navigation and the representation there is a very big remaining question regarding the architecture. All the museums are set in a very grand building and the experience of space, sequence, material and light , to name a few is in most cases very grand and worth the visit in itself. This is not the case in street view. On the contrary Google has managed to kill any such experience and completely flatten it out, architecture is dead.

Possible though, it would require rather little to take this in to account and the contextual setting of the individual art works could be part of the experience. On of these options would be to introduce a proper starting point or entrance to each museum. Currently the virtual visitor is simply dumped in one of the rooms in front of a painting at selecting the museum. Since many of the rooms at first glance look very similar it is very difficult to orientate or even know which museum one is visiting. If it is as in the case of the MoMa, where the starting point is in the entrance hall one is lost all together. The introduction of a stronger spatial narrative would definitely make a difference.

The quality of the images is possibly another issue. The different museum or rooms in the museums are not all being translated well into the digital format. Some seem to fit better than other. Especially the lighting quality seems to be very tricky to capture on camera. Appears the MoMa in New York very poor quality is on the other hand the Palace of Versailles is a lot more lively. Generally it can be said that the museums using colour tains on their walls come across a lot better than the white boxes. In a side note, this might change architecture trends if this technology becomes more trendy.

Image taken from the Google Art Project / A visit to the Gemaeldegalerie in Berlin, Germany on the Google Art Project. The blue colour makes for a better quality image than most of the white rooms used in the other museums.

In terms of art and culture communication it will be very interesting to see how this influences the way the institutions are communicating about their works and collection. Potentially one can think of many applications including works discussions and art education. We will see how this develops.

Of course it would be great if this technology could move away form this simple panning style of navigation towards a more spatial representation of navigation. Also the respect for the architecture or een more important the spatial and sequential quality of the building would greatly enhance the experience. But for now we have to live with this, which good for a quick ok around the galeries and see some exciting art work one would maybe never or not for a long time see in its context.