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The digital museum: not so evil

February 5, 2011

by James Cocks

Gallery view of Tate Britain from www.googleartproject.com

Google unveiled yesterday a project that applies the controversial “street view” technology to museum interiors. In addition to allowing visitors to navigate the floors of different galleries worldwide, the project provides high-resolution images of individual works of art. The technology holds the promise of making museum collections more accessible to people around the globe.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the experiment, the technology is very powerful. Although the spatial layout of the museum influences the virtual experience, the physical limitations of the real world become vestigial in the digital world. Institutions can take advantage of this. Curators wanting to show those buried archives can create a fabulous showcase of digital temporary exhibitions, permanently on digital display.

As with any nascent technology, there are some challenges. Will this be as good as visiting the museum in the real world? No, it won’t. But it makes versions of the masterpieces accessible to a wider and potentially more equitable audience. Will this make the real artwork more vulnerable to theft? This is possible but unlikely, as the nefarious already have access to the public areas on virtual display.

This type of technology ultimately augments the types of services available to museums. It opens up the door for increasingly sophisticated mapping services, facility planning, exhibition design, and security audits. Social networking services and algorithms for stumbling upon works of art adds new meaning to the curatorial process and introduces innovative opportunities for revenue generation. And who knows—perhaps Rockstar Games, the creators of Grand Theft Auto, will have some ideas and create a whole new type of museum experience.

The Google Art Project is available here:­

http://www.googleartproject.com/

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Batul Raaj Mehta / February 9, 2011

It would be interesting to know how such good virtual walkthroughs would affect actual attendance numbers for all these museums.


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