Experience the museum before going there

 20 Mar 2016 - 13:55

Experience the museum before going there

Have you ever wanted to visit the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, the Palace Of Versailles in France, or the National Gallery in London but don’t have the time and resources? Well, now you can — all in one day with just a few clicks or swipes via Google Cultural Institute.

By Raynald C Rivera 

Ever wondered how the tiny mosaics on the ceiling of St Paul’s Cathedral in London look like up close, or the swirling blue, yellow and green hues on Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night masterpiece appears in an image of seven billion pixels?

Have you ever wanted to visit the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, the Palace Of Versailles in France, or the National Gallery in London but don’t have the time and resources? Well, now you can — all in one day with just a few clicks or swipes via Google Cultural Institute.
The Institute is an online platform which has a repository of high resolution images from museums around the world, three-dimensional recreations of world heritage sites and archival exhibitions in collaboration with museums in many countries around the globe. Currently, it contains over six million photos, videos and documents accessible to every desktop or mobile user. 
“Google Cultural Institute was born five years ago and has two main objectives; on the first hand is to provide access to culture everywhere in the world, so really democratising access to culture and on the other hand to work with cultural institutions to really help them or partner with them to make the best of digital opportunities available,” said Giorgia Abeltino, Director of Public Policy at Google Cultural Institute.

Giorgia Abeltino, Director of Public Policy at Google Cultural Institute

Abeltino was recently in Doha for the second edition of The New York Times Art for Tomorrow conference in which she addressed a session on ‘Digital Museums’ while Google Cultural Institute participated in the Art Lab-an exhibition of contemporary art and artists running alongside the conference. 
“It is inherent in Google’s mission to organise information and make it accessible online and so why not do it with culture? And so today we have 1,000 partners including archives, museums and other cultural institutions allowing the user to really have an experience around art and history to discover more on what they are interested into and also discover something new,” she explained.
The cultural initiative was launched following the groundbreaking Google Art Project in 2011 which is presently one of the main highlights of the Institute giving users access to numerous images of artworks, many of which have been digitised.
“We digitise the images we call “gigapixels,” which are ultra-high resolution images. You can get through technology to a level of detail of an art piece that is otherwise impossible to get using the naked eye.”

Users would be amazed of how intimate they can interact with an art piece. Even the most minute cracks on the paint of centuries old paintings by the masters can be seen, thanks to Google’s digitisation. Microscopic details that otherwise can’t be seen when looking at the work in person when physically visiting a museum.

Sifting through the vast collection of images,  the user can utilise some cool features such as searching alphabetically, chronologically or by colour if a user wants to find a painting by an artist which has more yellow or grey in it.
“Digitising the images is done by Google for free for partner museums and we give back the rights to the museums so they can do whatever they want to the images. Everything is free and a no-profit activity so we do all the work in cooperation with museums.”
Everyone who has keen interest in art can benefit from what the Institute offers in the field of art.
“This is not only for the art expert. It depends on what the person is looking for. If we are talking about the detailed pictures, it’s for the art expert who wants to go deeper into the artworks. The museum is really taking the visitor by hand and is bringing him through a journey like a tourist.”
“We have six million images in the Institute. The point is how can we find a meaningful experience to a user? We cannot just throw him these millions of images. So at the end there suggestions provided on other artists as well as art movements that are correlated with what the user is searching, further expanding his knowledge.”
The user can search Google Art Institute on the desktop or download the the Arts and Culture App on Android or iOS.
“Every day the platform gives you suggestions of content that are interesting, featured partners, artists, feature stories and more. This is the same for history and world wonders.”
Another interesting feature of the platform is virtual reality (VR), which Abeltino says is not meant to replace the actual experience of visiting the place.
“The experience of art will always be a physical experience; we will always go to the theatre, we will always go to the museum but digital experience can sometimes enhance or add elements to that experience. So with virtual reality, people can now explore the museum even before going there.”
Apart from visual art, the Institute has launched a number of other projects in other fields of art.
“Last year we have done a beautiful project on performing art with 70 performing art institutions. Today with virtual reality you can be onstage at the Opera de Paris, the Royal Shakespeare Academy or the Carnegie Hall and have quite an experience.”


The user can peek through a VR viewer, a piece of cardboard invented by two engineers at the Institute’s headquarters, to watch a performance in a theatre or tour a museum. 
“The idea is to provide people an immersive experience into art, performing art and museums. Any viewer can download this app and have the experience. You are not substituting the experience of going to Opera de Paris, on the contrary, you can do something that complements it.”
The device is called “Cardboard” and can be purchased online for $3 and Google did not patent it so anyone can produce it, said Abeltino, adding many partner museums are now developing this feature. 
A number of museums in Qatar have been a partner of Google Art Institute for the past several years.
“In Qatar, we have two partners; the Museum of Islamic Art and the Mathaf. We have started working with them several years ago. For the MIA, you can see gigapixel images and there is also the possibility to move inside the museum through the 360-degree Street View. It’s a first step into a beautiful cooperation and I hope that we can work more as partners.”
The Institute is continuously developing projects in cooperation with many institutions to provide new content to users.
“There’s a lot of experimentation going on but the final point is I think it’s a win-win solution for the user who can finally discover things that otherwise he would not be able to discover and for the cultural partner is experimenting with us.
Through the platform, museums shed their walls to welcome visitors from any part of the globe 24 hours a day 365 days a year. It is Google’s contribution to keep the world of art alive digitally preserving cultural materials to educate and inspire future generations.

The Peninsula