“Art is the suitcase of history, carrying the essentials.”
– Yann Martel
Art, history, culture, design, literature – more than a few of my favorite things coalesce so splendidly in museums. Call me a nerd, a really big nerd, but strolling through a gallery soothes my soul, affording both a calm contentment and a rush of inspiration the way only losing myself in a good book or absorbing a sweeping vista does.
With any new globetrotting mission, I strive to visit a museum in each destination. The local perspective gained is invaluable, as well as the dialogue on a global and, of course, personal level. Walking through a museum transports you spatially and temporally in a matter of steps. In the space of a few galleries you may zip from an ancient Egyptian tomb, to a Renaissance parlor, to Andy Warhol’s Factory. Yet when our demanding social calendars don’t allow hours to spare or the Wikipedia version of Rembrandt just won’t suffice, Google brings you their new Art Project.
The Frick is at your fingertips, the Hermitage in the palm of your hand, well at least your mouse is. Teaming up with a selection of some of the world’s most prestigious art institutions (17 at present), Google uses its Street View technology to open an art window on the world.
You can virtually traipse through the Tate, using your cursor to wander, or jump to a different area of the museum using the floor plan. Something catch your eye? Click on a work off the wall from the gallery view and that art work will open in your browser.
A great advantage to viewing artwork in person is the ability to marvel at the brushstrokes, the colors and construction which compose each work. Art Project’s high resolution representations allow the user to zoom into each art work, easily navigating its surface and exploring its most intricate features.
The clean interface and intuitive drop-down menus enable easy maneuvering between museums or works in each museum. Vital information about each work and museum is displayed at the right of the page, including artwork and artist history, viewing notes, location in the museum, and videos. You can even create a collection of your favorite pieces, you know for future reference when you finally come into that inheritance.
One of my favorite pieces from the Smithsonian collection is located at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. Originally constructed to display the owner’s china collection, Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, is functional whimsy at its finest. Of his luminous decorative mural, James McNeill Whistler said: “Well, you know, I just painted on. I went on—without design or sketch—putting in every touch with such freedom…And the harmony in blue and gold developing, you know, I forgot everything in my joy of it.” My own photographs do not do the Peacock Room justice, but now I can visit any time I like using Google Art Project.
Exploring endeavors can be difficult during the winter months, but Google Art Project affords you some of the world’s most distinguished works from the comfort of your couch. Right now I’m missing NYC, so I think I’ll take a turn through The Met and reminisce about my trip there last month. Meet me at Manet?