The virtual virtual museum tour


This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.

Online museums, such as the Google Cultural Institute, present art pieces along with a plethora of information and tools for processing that information. The features of the Google Cultural Institute are too numerous to list, but include art searches, descriptions of artworks, links to similar works, museums, virtual tours and a platform for users to create their own galleries. In this gallery we thus take a virtual tour of this virtual museum, and discuss how online sites such as these influence their users’ relationships to art. This gallery was created for the purpose of an educational assignment by Cham Bei Qing (A0100199L).

The birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1483 - 1485, From the collection of: Uffizi Gallery
We begin our tour with a birth - the birth of Venus, Roman goddess of love and beauty. The Google Cultural Institute description of the image provides: "According to the interpretation by Ernst Gombrich, the work depicts the symbolic fusion of Spirit and Matter, the harmonious interaction of Idea and Nature." As art is presented online, it goes from a physical form to an electronic copy, which departs from its original and intended form, and just like its offline counterparts, it can be accompanied by 'official' interpretations.
The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, From the collection of: MoMA The Museum of Modern Art
van Gogh's Starry Night is well known to nearly all viewers. The unlikely first time viewer here is likely to have the ability to perform a search using Google or another search engine, and 'Starry Night' is likely to turn up more information than the beginner to art appreciation can process. Online museums draw on the tech-savvy of users to navigate their pages: Google Cultural Institute is one, and though the structure of the site is not completely intuitive, almost all the elements are interactive, and just clicking will get you everywhere. In this case, clicking will also get you to a virtual Museum of Modern Art, where the art piece this image represents is physically located - in New York.
Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai, 1830/1832, From the collection of: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
Just a step away in virtual space from 'New York' are prints like this. Though now Japanese woodblock prints are hardly limited exclusively to Japan, this particular one resides in the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum. In a click we have transcended vast amounts of space, both in terms of geography and artistic tradition.
The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny, Claude Monet, French, 1840 - 1926, 1899, From the collection of: Philadelphia Museum of Art
Here we come to another Western piece, and yet this one has unmistakable Japanese influences. Painted at the end of the 19th century, it reflects the cross-pollination of artistic traditions. Now that we are able to see these (and indeed any) pieces side by side in a virtual gallery, the potential for cross-cultural hybridity to arise may seem greater, and yet at the same each new item is less impactful for the glut of available images.
Sculpture, Unknown, 0618/0907, From the collection of: Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm
Unlike the carefully curated art exhibitions of offline museums, galleries in this museum can be disjointed and follow no discernible theme. Allowed to browse and collect images of art, each of which they usually view individually, users need not create or view galleries that follow any sort of established order seen in the art world. In this sense it is less like the real collections, where pieces are carefully chosen for exhibition, and yet much more personal, since the user chooses items that evoked emotional responses in them.
Rotterdam - The Steams, SIGNAC, Paul, 1906, From the collection of: Shimane Art Museum
The shortened attention span that the Internet and social media has been charged with inflicting users with also features in the movement of offline art to the online sphere: faced with so much information, Internet users have learned to gloss over or simply skip what does not interest them, even if the art is organised into collections and galleries. Google Cultural Institute and other similar online museums may promote this behaviour by allowing quick browsing through searches – we mostly see what we are looking for, and ignore everything else. This is clearly a very different experience from going into a museum and viewing an exhibition, where the arrangement of pieces is itself a performance, and creates an experience for the viewer. To use a metaphor, a viewer may miss the point of this art piece if they are too focused on the dots. While each dot is a single colour and each patch is unique, it only truly comes together as a piece when the entirety is examined.
Post-Classical-Back of Mona Lisa A, Wang Guang Yi, 1986, From the collection of: Today Art Museum
However, we should remember that such a search function is not so unlike how people go to some museums just to see particular famous pieces of art, which they can identify because they have already seen them! And since, dear viewer, you have already seen the Mona Lisa, I have used this image which a search for the Mona Lisa furnished me with instead. I hope you enjoy it more in this gallery, as I do.
Self Portrait, Andy Warhol, 1967, From the collection of: Detroit Institute of Arts
One of the more famous developments in art history in modern recollection is undoubtedly the rise of pop art. Andy Warhol's prints, which were mass-produced commercialised what had formerly been the province of high-culture. The digitisation of art pieces is comparable, but goes a step further: the modern viewer requires only an internet connection, and need neither be cultured nor moneyed. It has therefore in a sense made art for the everyman.
Geometrical abstract graffiti painting, Ilya Aesthetic, 2013 - 2013, From the collection of: Artmossphere Studio
As online museums make art for the everyman, they make art everyday.
Geometrical abstract graffiti painting, Ilya Aesthetic, 2013 - 2013, From the collection of: Artmossphere Studio
Now as we see that the previous image in the gallery, though displayed on equal footing with this piece and the pieces before, is a photograph of this work in progress, the question of whether they are or should all be considered art or emerges. Is this image art, or is the wall represented in it art and this but a poor image?
FLQ Hutch, Douglas Coupland, 2013, From the collection of: Vancouver Art Gallery
By providing these images out of context, in an easily searchable manner and allowing users to save images to furnish their own virtual galleries, online museums such as the Google Cultural Institute are inviting users to pick and choose. It provides art on demand, albeit in a reproduced form, to anyone who wishes to see it, along with bite-sized information about the pieces. It allows the divorce of art from its context, potentially opening the discussion to users from outside the art world, who can choose to make their own meanings, or take from accepted interpretations.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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