The world’s art @ your fingertips


By Shirley (jso300)


Have you ever visited a museum that was so overwhelmingly big, that you did not had the chance to see every corner of it? I always thought it would be so much nicer to visit a museum from my couch at home. Or at least revisit and see all those parts of the exhibitions that I missed. And then I figured out, that you can actually do that.

How? With the Google Art project. It is a platform that is like a Street View for museums. Check it out! It was founded in 2011, following Googles mission:

“[…] to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

– Google

A specially designed Street View trolley took 360 degree images of the interior of the museums. To find out if your favorite gallery is participating too, explore this map!

Is Art getting more amenable?

As you can see, you can now visit museums from all over the world being totally independent of the opening hours or the pricy admission, as long as you have Internet access. Only the smallest percentage of people are as privileged to travel all the way to  Amsterdam e.g. in order to see the Van Gogh’s Bedroom.

Do you recognize this masterpiece?

ga-4.jpgNo? Well maybe because it is zoomed so far into it’s brushstroke-level, that even if you would stand in front of the original one in Vienna – Austria, you couldn‘t observe it with your naked eye in such a detail. With a special camera Google took super high resolution images of selected masterpieces.

What would Walter Benjamin think about the Art Project? What happens to an artwork’s Aura if you violate it’s visual borders threw technology?

In 1936 the german philosopher wrote an essay about The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. There, he argues the concept of authenticity comparing the an original artwork and it’s reproduction. The term Aura plays here a central role. He understands the Aura as a sphere of authenticity that enlaces a work of art. An artworks  reproduction lacks the Aura. Why? Because trough the act of reproduction, the context is being changed and this way it’s authenticity gets lost:

“The sphere of authenticity is outside the technical. […] Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

– Walter Benjamin

Back in the 1930’s when Benjamin wrote his first drafts of the essay, the disruptive media that engaged him were photography and film. Today we could perhaps adapt his arguments to our contemporary discourse about “the Internet”. And especially the Art Project invites us to reread Walter Benjamins well known article, as it provokes the original’s Aura with it’s zoom-in-tool in the digital version.

Is the Aura today still applicable? Will we need to expand it’s definition to discuss the Art Project ? What is the difference in seeing Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and visiting it’s online double via the Art Project?

However the Art Project is not only about observing art, it’s also about curating it. Every visitor is invited to create her or his very own Gallery and to share it on social media (only requirement: owning a Google Account). This way you can visit more than merely the famous exhibitions of MoMA or the Tate Gallery in London. You can also stroll threw Galleries e.g. about Female PhotographersLGBTQ equality, or Street Art for Social Justice.

What changes, if you don’t need an inestimable University Degree anymore in order to curate art? Will it change something in the long-term view? In what extend could the content change?


Why do we collect?

Because it is our nature to do so. Since early ages we have been collecting and preserving items of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance. Archives are the storehouses of our human knowledge. By accumulating the information about our past we get inspired regarding our future.

Since it’s launch five years ago, the Art Project extended it’s content consistently. Each partner has it’s own trade-off contract with Google. The museums invite Google to their house and as an exchange Google is responsible for the technological aspects and owns the rights over the digital products.Today you can visit 2,468 of the partnering museum with the street view and features are being enhanced by coeval technologies like virtual reality.

Why do the museums to “give away” their digital version of their masterpieces for free in the first place? And what happens, if the world’s cultural heritage is hand-held in a monopolistic tech-company?

So far, no institution has succeeded to collect as extensively as Google did with the Art Project in such a short period of time. It is not that the museums lack the effort – there are numerous digitalization projects – but rarely one of those provides such a user friendly access. Mostly the target groups of those online archives are academics. The admission can be very exclusive regarding segregative terms of use or language e.g.. The platforms are not interactive, there is no Street View and you can’t curate your own collection. The Art Project allows us to rethink how we should accumulate, organize and interpret our cultural heritage – if you ask me, we should accept this challenge!


To learn more about the social & political power of libraries, museums and archives I recommend to read Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest by Howard Zinn (1977).

(992 Words)


“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. Walter Benjamin. New York 1935. (Translated 1969 by Harry Zohn).


“Google Arts & Cultures – Partners”. Map. Google.<;

“Our History”. Google Cultural Institute. Google <;


“Kailyn’s Gallery of Female Photographers”. Google Arts & Culture. <;

“LGBT equality”. Google Arts & Culture.<;

“Walltherapy”. Google Arts & Culture.<;


“Luncheon on the Grass”. Edouard Manet. 1863.

“The bedroom”. Vincent van Gogh. October 1888.

“The Kiss”. Gustav Klimt. 1908/1909.