Inside and outside the digitalized museum: Thoughts on the Google Art Project- Wency

Inside and outside the digitalized museum: Thoughts on the Google Art Project

The history of the reproduction of the work of art can be traced back to thousand years ago. But it was not until the age of technological reproducibility when mechanical equipment, or better, apparatus that higher quantity of the reproduction was enabled and critiques and debates around reproduction was started. However, people at that age might have never imagined that almost 100 years after the beginning of the era of mechanical reproduction, a new invisible apparatus is bringing a new revolution where the work of art, together with the interface of the work of art, are both being remediated by digitalization (luckily, Benjamin’s idea in the age of mechanical reproduction seems to be still useful under the digital reproduction era). One of the best examples in this case might be the Google Art project.

  1. Inside the museum: from informational to emotional

A common problem with digital reproduction of art works is that people often consider these reproductions as mere reference to the real thing (Proctor, 2011, p.219). The first generation of museums on the web, according to Serota, was concerned of quantity of information and getting as many objects on line as possible (Proctor, 2011, p.215). The purpose of digital reproduction, in the first generation, is to instantiate as much token as possible in terms of the original work, or better, the prototype.

The google art project, to some extent, brings the digital reproduction era onto the second stage where the gigapixel scans by which artworks are rendered into digital data streams are enabling intimate encounters with images at visual depth not possible even in galleries (Proctor, 2011, p.215). The high-resolution images and high-definition video are therefore, guarantees the quality of the art work which is even better than the real thing, in other words, the online interface, under the second generation of museums on the web, serves as a supporter instead of distractor for the artwork (Proctor, 2011, p.219). The director, under this circumstance, is thus ambitious about transform the pure informational digital token into an emotional one (Proctor, 2011, p. 215).

However, while the exhibition itself is a mutual experience where standing at the perspective of audience, their perceptions are not merely determined by the quality of artwork. In terms of the concept of intertextuality and dialogic principle, audiences’ interpretations of the artwork are contextually situated and tied to their own experience visual culture (Irvine, 2018, p.5; Beil, 2013, p.23). Therefore, the Google art project, on the other hand, is benefit from the understanding audience’s own knowledge of the conventions of artwork reproduction which enables them to select the features of an image during the representation and interpretation (Beil, 2013, p.23).

  1. the digitalized museum

The experience of visiting a museum involves more than looking at a painting. For most audiences, wandering in a museum without knowing what kind of artwork they are looking at might not be a good user experience. Therefore, for instance, if I want to see some great work from ancient Africa, the first thing I would do is heading to the African art area and start the whole adventure. But there might also be a problem, for a real museum, for example, if Europe art and postmodernism are two categories in two different areas, what would the director place an art work that belongs to both categories? But in a digitalized museum it seems to be not a problem. While the backstage software allows you to generate infinite tokens with the same degree of quality, such problem is therefore easily manipulatable.

As is seen in the picture, the artwork can be ascribed into multiple categories. It’s also a great example of how the director is organizing the museum using the idea of abstraction, type and token.

Besides, users’ exhibition experience, or the function of museum is also reproduced. The 360-degree Street-view style tour, by simulating the first-person point of view, is therefore actually simulating the whole exhibiting experience (looking at the artwork and also wandering around the museum).

What’s more, from what we learnt last week about digital devices, applications as metamedium, the Google Art project is also a great example of being a metamedium by manipulating, organizing and digitalizing museums as interfaces between audiences and artworks. The meta-painting example shows how a painting can be a painting about paintings and inspires the digitalization to be a more precise way of representing such meta-painting (Irvine, 2018, p.7), and what’s more, by using close-up, user can see every detail of the painting clearly which is unimaginable in a “thingly” real situation.

  1. the socialized & politicalized interface

– cult value to exhibition value: the socio-political factor behind the design of technology for production

According to Benjamin, in the age of mechanical reproduction, more and more audiences are able to be involved into the perception of art. On the one hand, people are arguing that the aura of art is dispelled because of the uniqueness and permanent of the work are destroyed during the endless generation of same tokens (Benjamin, 2013, p.254). On the other hand, within the improvement of the technology of reproduction, the appreciation of work of art thus becomes a mass project where the difference between social class in terms of art perception is at least decreased. While in the earlier age, the value of art is evaluated in terms of cult value where people are told to watch in distance as if they are in a ritual, now the value of work of art itself is being under a transformation where the cult value is turning into the exhibition value (Benjamin, 2013, p.256). Therefore, when we are talking about how technology is defined by reproducibility or even the work of art is designed for reproducibility, there is also socio-political factors lying behind.

Nevertheless, Benjamin also points out how work of art (e.g. paintings, photographs) and film actors are subjected to the technical apparatus, many critiques at that time were also pointed to the performance of the actor where people are doubtful that the actors, instead of live performances, are relying on the editing techniques, besides, while trying to build a fake personality outside of the studio, the actors themselves, are alienated (Benjamin, 2013, p.261). At the present, it seems that the Google art project has not encounter such problem yet, but the software application makes the digital manipulation much faster and easier, one can expect as many post-editions as possible in the future. What, then, would be the future of the art works and artists involved in the museum? What would be the future of the museum as a meta-interface of those art work? That might be some new questions.



  1. Agostino, C. (2015). Distant Presence and Bodily Interfaces: Digital-Beings and Google Art Project. Museological Review – University of Leicester.
  2. Beil, K. (2013). Seeing Syntax: Google Art Project and the Twenty-First-Century Period Eye. 40 (4). Afterimage.
  3. Benjamin, W. (2003). The Work of Art in The Age of Its Technological Reproducibility. Cambridge, Massachusetts: the Belknap press of Harvard university press.
  4. Explore – Google Arts & Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from
  5. Irvine, M. (2018). Malraux and the Musee Imaginaire: (Meta)Mediation, Representation, and Mediating Institutions.
  6. Meta-Painting. (2013, January 05). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from
  7. Proctor, N. (2011). The Google Art Project. Curator: The Museum Journal.