Google: the silent curator

I was lucky enough to get to a talk by James Davis, on Google’s recent foray into the upper echelons of the art world, the Google Cultural Institute. Around 40, full-time staff based in London and Paris keeps the cogs whirring, after starting with just a team of two, it’s clear that Google has realised the potential of the project. With a modest number of cultural institutions signed up to the scheme so far, the project is set to grow and grow.

Google has also thrown significant technological weight behind the project. An incredibly powerful camera can capture such minute detail that it’s possible to zoom in so closely to an art work that you can see the brushstokes or marks of the sculptor’s chisel with absolute clarity They have also been able to scoot their existing Google Streetview camera to hitherto publicly inaccessible parts of Wonders of the World, like the Taj Mahal.

Where do I fit in?

The short answer to this is, you don’t. Well, not into the Google Cultural Institute per say, unless your work is already heavily collected and is put forward by a participating institute. But Google has not left contemporary artists out in the cold- Google Open Gallery is meant to bridge the gap. Whereas Google Cultural Institute does not work with content creators directly (in this case, the artists themselves), Google Open Gallery is a totally different kettle of fish. In short, it does exactly what it says on the tin (or screen in this case) users can create their own free gallery to showcase their own work to a global audience.

Details are still a little sketchy on how it will look but there are high hopes that it will incorporate a good deal of Google Cultural Institute’s powerful technology but I don’t need to spell out the advantages that this could bring to visual artists. Key features like being able to embed the Open Gallery as an enhancement to your existing site, rather than creating a standalone will be a distinct advantage but, similarly, I suspect it’ll be a deal-breaker for many if it isn’t.

What’s in it for Google?

If take up is strong enough and with such enormous potential at its fingertips, I fully expect it to be, Google could, in a relatively short space of time, boast a vast global network of artists- at every stage of their career. Whether this makes you uncomfortable is a matter of taste. You could argue that exposure of your work online is one thing and how it gets there is by the by. Currently artists use wordpress or similar platforms in their droves to create an online presence and this could spell the end or at least put a serious dent in their numbers.

There’s also the question of how much you want Google to know about you. How much are you willing to subscribe to one internet giant- afterall, you must first have a gmail account before you can hook yourself up to Google Open Gallery.

For most, I suspect the pros will outweigh the cons, the technology on offer is spectacular, it’s free and, as with most Google offerings, will be user-friendly to the point of what would one do without it.


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