Google Arts & Culture: A VR museum or a art search engine?

In 2016, the Internet search giant Google debuted a new version website of Google Arts & Culture, a website that promises to give people access to the world’s museums at just a click. In the official Google blog, a post wrote about the new version of Google Arts & Culture like this:

Just as the world’s precious artworks and monuments need a touch-up to look their best, the home we’ve built to host the world’s cultural treasures online needs a lick of paint every now and then. We’re ready to pull off the dust sheets and introduce the new Google Arts & Culture website and app, by the Google Cultural Institute. The app lets you explore anything from cats in art since 200 BCE to the color red in Abstract Expressionism, and everything in between.

Google Arts & Culture now claims “more than a thousand museums across 70 countries,” from big partners like the British Museum (with close to 9,000 works) and LA’s Getty (with close to 16,881 items), to the National Museum of Mongolia, in Ulaanbataar (with a modest 96 items to view) or the outdoor “Sculpture by the Sea” exhibit in Cottesloe, Australia (with 69 of its advertised 70 exhibits on view). I find that the whole website is interesting to play around with, but it’s still clunky to me. First of all, it integrates too many features together with the seeming grand ambition of becoming the one-stop web portal for museum-goers and feels a bit like a palatial new trophy museum that you slowly realize was built by robots who aren’t totally sure what anything really means. One minute you are staring in awe at some cool virtual attraction, the next you wander into another digital dead end. Though Google Arts & Culture provides some basic and useful functions, I would regard it as an art search engine. It allows users to discover works and artifacts, to search for anything, from shoes to all things gold, to scroll through art by time. For those who want to dig in deeper, the website could walk one through the vivid details of Pieter Breugel the Elder’s Tower of Babel, but to a rather inexplicable introduction to “Contemporary Art,” which posits that the tactile information of craft media spoke of a direct connection to an endangered humanity.