Monday, February 28, 2011

Art Project, Powered by Google

Google. It is the Thing that is the Thing, and although I thought Kris Kross would always be popular when I was younger, this too will someday pass. I have nothing against google but its largess is suspicious to anyone that likes to be contrary. It is only because google is “powering” Art Project, a new interactive way to view art works of certain museums around the world, that the project has any relevance. Whatever google stakes its primary colored claim on matters, a lot. There are many things that are b-a-d about Art Project, but surprisingly, there were interesting things too.

Most of the failures of this project are in its presentation, which is supposed to be the entire point, which makes the faults even more glaring. First the name of the artist, title, year and dimensions should be clearly visible at all times, it isn’t, why I have no idea. If you click on the “i” for information icon on the top right corner, a box appears with date, artist, location and other links. This is ridiculously hard to read, 6 pt font in dark gray on a slightly lighter gray. Also some dates were missing and original native language titles were not given in some cases. Very inconsistent. What got me the most were the dimensions. They were only given in cm, which I know is what is used outside of the United States but come on google give us inches too! The additional links were sort of helpful, the location one just showed you a google map of where the museum was located, useless.

The way the images were shown is another notably annoying aspect. It has landscape formatting with black surrounding the image and a very useless information bar/navigation tool on top. On the right lower corner there is a smaller thumbnail version of the entire work and with the mouse you can use a slide bar to zoom in our out. The larger image then reflects the area of increase and the thumbnail would show were on the work you were. This function is supposed to be the big point. See master works like never before! See them close up! 90% of these works do not benefit from this function. The insanely detailed works but the Dutch artists like Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Robert Campin and a few others such as Sandro Botticelli and El Greco really are heightened by such close scrutiny but most of the time this was actually an appalling thing to do.

Zooming in to such extent is unnatural. I’m not sure if google has this idea that to be able to see this close is in some way an approximation of what the artist sees, if so, they are wrong in this assumption. To look this close at a painting is as ghastly as it is to look at your lover’s face and to focus only on the pores. No one needs to look that close and this function does not reveal surface and texture, it does the exact opposite, it flattens and makes it smooth and cold. This being so, I still could not help myself from zooming in then out, then to the left and right etc. There is this impulse to find hidden things when you are given a tool like that. It is usually reward-less but sometimes you see something peculiar. I have to also mention that looking at the images through this project is different then looking at more passive images on the internet. There is a focus required to looking at these images that strains the eye.

Another thing to quickly note is this whole thing where you can “walk through” the museum. This is just not up to par. Please take it away until it is of actual use. I found myself dizzily swirling around in boring pixilated rooms, getting stuck in a corner as I am apt to do in Mario Kart, looking at a wall from an impossible angle and once found myself on top of a silver car in Washington DC with frozen suburban types caught in mid step. Cringe worthy. Installation shots of the spaces and maybe a few people viewing to registrar scale would have been sufficient. Work on it google.

Looking through this whole project, yes I looked at every image, is at first annoying, the whole set up is just not right, but the actual images, they are something to see. Many of these works are of a certain time and certain content. This, I think, has something to do with the copyright issues as well as the intellectual ruling class. The images are from our art history books from college, they are introductions mostly but this is not necessarily a bad thing since everyone is being summoned to this. It is filled with Jesus, Greek Myths, Angels, Madonnas, weirdly proportioned babies, all the Bible story hits. It has other things too, some landscape, some still life, just a handful of things post 1950s.

There is of course a huge predominance of the wealthy, moneyed class. The one word that was revealed to me after seeing all of these works is Fashion. Yes Fashion, it wreaks over most of these images. The clothing of the duchess, the merchant, the child, the villagers, the innkeeper, of Jesus, of Mary, of the angels of everything is impeccable and focused. Seeing image after image of various times, places, classes, there was this presence of this Fashion and of the faces. The faces that had previously seemed like a measure of a bygone era became contemporaries. The sitters were all playing characters, even if of themselves. Botticelli’s model in The Birth of Venus, 1483-85, is in the next frame the Virgin Mother in Madonna of the Pomegranate, 1487 the next frame a Grace in La Primavera 1477-78. She becomes someone. She is most likely Simonetta Vespucci, the recognition of the face over and over again breaks the myth of an artwork. Through many of these artists’ works you see the same people and this then makes everything seem more charming and more relatable. I imagined the artist directing, dressing and posing his friends to play Eve or St. Sebastian. Imagining this process makes all the gilt and religiosity seem more basic. More cigarettes, drinks and chatter filled.

Overall this project needs a lot of work. I’m not sure if it could possibly get better with a touch screen, I’m still in the camp that thinks i-pads and their ilk are equivalents to the Jitter Bug phone, but possibly. There has to be more images. There has to be a much better system to make sense of the timelines, histories and contexts of the images. I know easier said then done, but it is possible to fix the faults that exist right now with what is accessible. I do appreciate that I am able to see so much art of a certain type stringed together in this way but over all for it to be something worth the google buzz and power, doing an okay job is not good enough.