Friday, February 4, 2011

Google, The Death of the Deaccessioning Wars

Note the time and day. You read it here first my friends. History in the making.

I have pinpointed the death of the anti-deaccessionist ideology, and it's one we're all familiar with. What is it, you ask?


Yes, you heard right. There will come a day (hopefully quite soon), when the debate over deaccessioning will go the way of the eight-track and Milli Vanilli. Remember, the key to the deaccessioning debate is the "public" access (read: trust) to venerable artworks. What will little Johnny and little Suzie do if Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors is sold off by the National Gallery to pay the electric bill? Well, this won't matter if little Johnny and Suzie have access to it via digital format (and later on, holographic format). The key is access, experiencing, viewing, seeing, being exposed to, right?

Well, just this week, Google launched its interactive Art Project. Here's an overview of the Art Project via the Wall Street Journal,

A collaboration with 17 museums including three in New York—the Frick Collection, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—the portal offers virtual access to the institutions, allowing visitors to navigate galleries and pore over hundreds of their works of art in fine detail. ...Art Project also includes 17 works—one from each museum—that can be explored on a near-microscopic level, via "gigapixel" photo-capturing mechanisms whose images contain up to 14 billion pixels.

I know the counter-argument to my thesis quite well (unfortunately), and that's the one drenched with the good ol' magical aura (see Walter Benjamin). Here's a snippet from Benjamin's Illuminations,
By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand it manages to assure us of an immense field of action. ...Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. (Walter Benjamin, Illuminations)
There are of course some challenges, copyright being one of them, but nothing that cannot be overcome with simple licensing. More thoughts on this soon.


Anonymous said...

A photograph of a drawing is not a drawing. A digital version of a painting is not a painting. There is nothing magical about this. Serious artists and art appreciators go to museums because they can only see the work there, in the focus provided by their own eyes, under reflected light that approximates the light under which the work was created. Institutions that try to use digital means to draw people to their collections are being effective advertisers. Viewers who think that the advertisements can teach them much are shortchanging their own, unique abilities to absorb, and to see.

Sergio Munoz Sarmiento said...

Dear Anonymous:

I see your point. However, your take on this issue is precisely what I am critiquing: the fact that you still allocate such a "magical" moment to the physical "experiencing" of art. Think of the great good Google's Art Project could have for deaccessioned pieces which were in remote locations and/or in private hands?


chris miller said...

I'm with Mr. Anonymous regarding the "magic moment" of seeing things in person.

But I also think museums have the cultural responsibility to make their collections as accessible as posssible for a viewing public that can't always make it to the gallery.

Especially regarding that vast majority of their collections which is kept off view.

For example, last year the Art Institute of Chicago had a spectacular exhibition of tapestries, most of which had never been on view since the museum first collected them 80 years ago.

The exhibition lasted 8 weeks, and now the pieces are back in the basement, likely never to be seen again in our lifetimes.

That's the sort of thing that should get the super-high resolution images on the internet -but not only did the museum fail to do that, it didn't even allow vistors to take their own pictures, and pictures in the printed catalog are simply inadequate for the close-up enjoyment that this kind of artwork can offer.

All power to the Google Art Project!

Let's hope every museum eventually will sign up, and that every piece is given a giga-pixel photo.