The Google Art Project is like Disneyland


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After interfacing with the Google Art Project, it left me with a unique perspective on:

1) the power vested in users to ‘accept’ or reject artwork as transformative entities

2) Our new approach to the concept of reproducible objects and

3) what it means to be an art institution

To start, lets look at the image above – my guess is that a majority of the audience can correctly identify the name of the art and the artist. Why is that? How is it possible that without any identifying information other than the high-resolution characteristics of the art itself (color, brush strokes, etc) the art is still recognizable?  Art has always been presented as a visual experience. The way I make sense of this is to not look at its digital format as something revolutionary or groundbreaking. This artwork has been transfigured into posters, notebook covers, mouse pads, coffee mugs – long before its natural transgression into a digital format. Essentially we indicated that it was OK for this work of art to be copied and put into the hands of everyday people. Do viewers have the choice to ‘reject’ or stop a piece of art being transformed over and over again? What about the artist’s say? Thanks to initiatives like the Google Art Project, art never really dies.

Benjamin (1936) claimed that “the work of art has always been reproducible” and that anything human-made can be copied as well (p.253). Benjamin also went on to claim that “technological reproduction can place the copy of the original in situations which the original itself cannot attain” (p. 254) which I found is useful in  teaching us to look beyond the scope of the traditional object and remain open-minded to new creative outlets.  

Just like this chair above. It is more than a simple chair-it is Napoleon’s Throne Chair, a deeply symbolic and historical artefact currently held by Chateau de Fontainebleau, 3,900 miles away from Washington, D.C. Yet, through a technological reproduction (the Google Art Project), this chair puts itself in new situations like it is in now. It is being talked about, shared on people’s screens and ‘played’ with. I can zoom in on the chair’s intricate details from the comfort of my own chair but I highly doubt I’d be able to get this close if I went to the Chateau de Fontainebleau in person.  

 

The Google Art Project is an institution. The site does not need to explicitly state in text “we are an influential organization” or “we are changing how art is viewed in the mediasphere.” It is simply implied. And so is Disneyland – an institution. Upon entering its premises, visitors are not handed brochures that tell you “this is where you can escape reality for a few hours or a few days!” – it is simply implied. Baudrillard went as far as to call Disneyland “a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra” (1981). By this, Baudrillard gave Disneyland the ability to simulate or imitate childhood memories. Just like Disneyland, art institutions that lively exclusively through the web provide an opportunity for simulacra and simulations. The artworks we see through the Google Art Project are not the originals, hence they can only depict the original’s reality to a certain extent. Imitation can only go so far. Eventually one must leave Disneyland, and eventually one must exit from Google’s interface. One could leave his or her browser’s window open for a few hours, walk away and come back, but it’s still not the same as it recreating the reality of ‘resting’ on a public bench at a museum. Or watching other people analyze artwork – not that’s reality that can’t yet be recreated online.

Disneyland: Come relive your childhood memories – or at least imitate them as much as you can for a fee!

The Google Art Project is a great real-time case study to analyze the ways in which the broad topics of representation, mediation, and cultural transmission function in a post-modern world. Reality, and imitation, can only go so far but how far we let it go will be up to our own devices.

References:

Baudrillard, Jean “Simulacra and Simulations” (also in html version). From Simulacra and Simulation, 1981; English trans., 1988.

Benjamin, Walter “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939).

Château de Fontainebleau. Google Art Project. http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/chateau-de-fontainebleau/

“The Starry Night.” (1889). Vincent van Gogh. Google Art Project. http://www.googleartproject.com/galleries/25349009/25283105/25335082/