Discovering Latin American Art Through The Power Of Google
Google uses its technological genius to share artwork from a range of collections with users around the world.
It can be said, perhaps, that this new technology could do for the art object what the mechanization of movable type did for literature. Amongst its many contributions to modernity, it gave knowledge to the masses. It is possible that digital art collections, like the Google Art Project, could also create availability, encourage vernacular art and help diminish the Western hierarchy that structures most of our art world.
Does something like the Google Art Project have the ability to change the art world? Let’s take a closer look.
The most recent additions to the Google Art Project include 11 museums from Latin America. Making artwork available from Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. In total, 151 museums have teamed up with Google since 2011 by contributing images and video tours. The program provides a streamlined interface to view over 30, 000 works of art.
The project was born out of a passion for art by the innovated young Group Marketing Manager, Amit Sood. Sood developed this idea under a unique company philosophy called 20 percent time: a program designed to allow Google employees the freedom to work on individual projects once a week. Alongside other art enthusiasts, Sood conceived of a place where art could be accessed by anyone from anywhere in the world.
The database is free. To use all of the features you simply sign on using your Google username and ID. At the homepage, for example, a user can navigate to Collections, Choose Locations, select Argentina, then select the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. Here you can view up to 234 artworks by 91 artists. One of these masterful pieces stands out at once.
A close inspection of the stunning 1894 realist painting, Sin pan y sin trabajo (Without bread and work) by Ernesto de la Cárcova, allows the viewer to participate in the subject’s gaze. A fist-clenched man stares anxiously out the window across the table from a withdrawn mother breast-feeding her infant. With the powerful zoom technology we are fully drawn to the man’s point of view. In light tones, contrasting the chiaroscuro of the household, you can see beyond the window to what appears an historical scene – the Panic of 1890 – in Buenos Aires’ industrial South side.
One look at this painting and you will wonder why you have never heard of de la Cárcova before. In an instant the user has elevated their cultural consciousness and gained a sincere appreciation for an amazing figure in Latin American, and world art history.
Browse further and you can view the artwork from the Artist section, which is structured alphabetically. The Artworks section displays various image icons (or, thumbnails), though in a less discernible way. For example, the 16th century Netherlandish painting, The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appears adjacent to the massive basalt-sculpted Aztec monolith, Piedra del Sol (Stone of the Sun), from the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico.
This ordering, or lack of it, seems to even the playing field in many respects by choosing to get away from long held systems that privilege western art (i.e. – Greek & Roman, Renaissance, etc). It also eliminates the edifice and therefore the importance we place on the classical facade. In this way all museums, artworks and artists are elevated to the same platform and made available to anyone with means to the Internet. The User Galleries section also fosters familiarity to art by allowing users to curate and store their own selection of artworks and share them with others.
In this fiercely competitive digital age many institutions are implementing their own developments towards accessible art. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has recently received funding for its first online catalog, which will feature works by Robert Rauschenberg. The new publication is apart of a wider initiative by Getty’s Online Scholarly Catalog Initiative, which seeks to bring museum catalogs into the digital era and make them widely available, interactive and up-to-date. Many collecting institutions already have their collections catalogs available online.
With these new developments towards broadening the art spectrum and making art more accessible, one cannot help but be impressed by this type of virtual experience. This is especially true when you consider what makes those like the Google Art Project stand out. It’s The Power of Zoom. At up to 10 billion pixels the user can zoom into brushstroke-level, inspecting cracks and even flaws on the surface of the art objects. And, like the example of Ernesto de la Cárcova’s, Sin pan y sin trabajo, you are able to tap into the moment and emotion of a Porteño (person from a port city, in this case Buenos Aires) in 1890 Argentina.
While this can never replace the experience of walking through open gallery spaces, hearing the soft chatter of fellow museumgoers and the slow click of a shoe on polished floors, it brings those without access one step closer to the art object. As Amit Sood said in a 2011 Ted talk, the project is not meant to replace the museum experience, but rather “supplement the experience.”
So, can this new breed of art-seeing change the art world by broadening our purview and creating access? Certainly not alone, however, it is very useful to investigate what the (hyper) digital age means for art. Let us hope this era will look to its renaissance predecessor by providing access to the masses, literacy and a celebration of the vernacular.