More to See with Google Art Project

November 3, 2012

Back in early 2011, Google launched its Art Project, to bring images of art works from a group of world-class museums to your Web browser.  The project also featured “virtual tours” of some galleries, using Google’s “Street View” technology.

In a post on the Official Google Blog, the project’s Piotr Adamczyk has announced the availability of a new group of works from 29 art organizations in 14 countries.  Some of the organizations added are:

  • The Phillips Collection, Washington DC, USA
  • Walters Art Museum, Baltimore MD, USA
  • Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy
  • Latvian National Museum, Riga, Latvia
  • Jintai Art Museum, Beijing, China
  • Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul, Turkey

A new “Compare” tool has also been added to the Art Project site; the tool allows you to compare two works of art side by side.  This can be used, for example, to explore how an artist’s style evolved over time.  There is also a “Hangout” app for Google+ users.

Google’s Art Project was already a wonderful cultural resource, and these additions make it even better.

Steampunk Exhibition

October 29, 2011

Wired has a photo gallery article  from an amusing exhibition, Steampunk: Form and Function: An Exhibition of Innovation, Invention and Gadgetry, described as “the Jules-Verne-meets-Bill-Gates school of contraption art”, being shown at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston.

The Steampunk Time Machine Antique Master Bathroom Computer Workstation, designed by Bruce Rosenbaum and Walter Parker, melds a modern computer with antique plumbing components, including a ribcage shower, toilet and pipes.

I don’t think the plumbing components are intended to be functional.  There is also a computer desk built from an Eastman Kodak Century No. 1 Studio Camera.  I particularly like the Victorian “Sojourner” Keyboard, by Rich Nagy, and the Waterproof USB Drives by Derrick Culligan.

The show includes more than 30 digitally rejiggered antiques, including clocks, coffeemakers, humidifiers, workstations and grand pianos. It’s all displayed, appropriately enough, in a former textile factory built in 1814.

The exhibit runs through January 15, 2012.


Dead Sea Scrolls Online

September 26, 2011

Just after I finished writing the post about Princeton’s new policy of making all scholarly papers available to the public, I came across a story at the BBC News site, which reports that Google has worked together with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to put facsimiles of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls online.   The Scrolls, originally discovered at Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, preserve the oldest existing copies of some parts of the Hebrew Bible, as well as some other texts.  The scrolls that have been made available so far include:

  • The Temple Scroll
  • The Great Isaiah Scroll
  • The War Scroll
  • The Community Rule Scroll
  • The Commentary of Habakkuk Scroll

The online edition contains very high resolution images of the scrolls (1200 megapixel), so that users can inspect the text in detail.  Additional scrolls may be added in the future.  More details are available on the museum site.

This is another aspect of Google’s project to make more of the world’s cultural heritage available online.  I’ve written before about the Google Art project, and about some of the work done on the Google Books project.  It’s good to see some of the positive potential of the Web realized.

The Official Google Blog also has a post on this project.

Yale to Put Public-Domain Works Online

June 2, 2011

The “Babbage” blog at The Economist site has a  post reporting  that Yale University will make available online a collection of high-resolution digital images of those works from its extensive collections that are in the public domain.

In an announcement on May 10th, the university says its libraries, museums and archives will provide free universal access to high-resolution digitisations of holdings in the public domain. A teaser in the shape of 250,000 images (in low resolution) from its central catalog of 1.5m is already available.

This is welcome news.  Yale’s libraries contain ~ 10 million books, as well as many other documents.  The University’s natural history museum has a collection of ~12 million specimens.   Yale does not yet know exactly how many of these works are in the public domain, but this step will surely make many more works available to anyone with an Internet connection.

The images themselves, being newly produced, are not in the public domain, but they will be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, which grants permission to copy, modify, and redistribute the work, as long as the original source is credited.  (This blog is licensed under a similar Creative Commons license — see the “Legal Stuff” sidebar.)

As “Babbage” points out, this step, though significant and welcome, is not the first of its kind.  Google has had an on-going project for some time to scan books and make the resulting images available.   Although there has been come controversy over just how Google should handle works that are currently protected by copyright, Google Books already has about one million  public domain titles available.  The Flickr photo sharing site has a large collection of images in the Commons, provided by a number of institutions, including the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and the National Library of Scotland.  Several other universities have made parts of their collections available on the Internet, and Google also has its Art Project, which I wrote about in February, that is making the collections of some of the world’s greatest art museums available online.

The article also mentions that some people have concerns that making this material easily accessible may lead to undesirable results.

Most controversially, without legal recourse museum pieces and specimens from an earlier age risk being travestied in unseemly ways.

That sort of thing — drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa, or something even more tasteless — is bound to happen.  But it seems to me that is a very small price to pay to make our common cultural heritage available to a much wider audience.

Google Unveils Art Project

February 2, 2011

Yesterday, on the official Google blog, the company announced its new Art Project, which uses its “Street View” technology to bring over 1,000 art works from 17 world-class museums to your Web browser. The participating museums are (in no particular order):

  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • The Frick Collection, New York City
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
  • The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
  • The Freer Gallery, Washington DC
  • Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid
  • Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin
  • The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
  • Uffizi Gallery, Florence
  • Palace of Versailles, Versailles
  • Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
  • National Gallery, London
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
  • Tate Britain, London
  • Museum Kampa, Prague
  • Museo Thyssen-Bomemisza, Madrid

Each of the museums has selected one work to be photographed in very high resolution (averaging about 7 gigapixels); you can zoom in to see brush strokes and other fine detail.  The other works are at lower resolution, but still very well reproduced.  You can also “stroll” virtually through the galleries, and get at least a glimpse of many other great works.  Google captured the images using the same type of mobile camera technology used to create Street View.

… the Street View team designed a brand-new vehicle called the “trolley” to take 360-degree images of the interior of selected galleries. These were then stitched together and mapped to their location, enabling smooth navigation of more than 385 rooms within the museums.   We also created a new clickable annotation feature, so you can jump from being inside a museum one moment to viewing a particular artwork the next.

Not all of the images from this “tour” view are of especially good quality, but it is nonetheless an impressive accomplishment.  If one were contemplating a visit to one of these museums, the tour could be a very useful tool for planning one’s route.  It would also provide an opportunity for at least a glimpse of some works that one might otherwise miss.  The Google project team says that they hope to add more works, and more museums, in the future.

I’ve had the great good fortune to be able to visit 11 of these museums in person, but it is still great fun to be able to go back and refresh that experience.  I hope it will motivate some people to explore some of the collections if they can.  And it is really a great gift to the large number of people who would find it difficult, for reasons of geography, economics, or whatever, to visit even one of them.  Google deserves to be commended for creating a valuable cultural resource.

Wired also has an article on this project.

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