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Is Google Art Project second-rate?

Posted by Sebastian Smee  February 10, 2011 11:25 AM

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For people who think Google Art Project is stunningly new and world-changingly wonderful (and from the comments thread attached to my Critic's Notebook on the subject, that would seem to be quite a few people), consider checking out the website of a company called Synthescape.

Synthescape, and I quote from their website, "works with museums and galleries to assist them with digitizing collections and exhibitions. We are particularly skilful at high-resolution, multi-perspective imaging of artworks, artefacts, installations, and exhibitions. Our speed and efficiency are unparalleled."

If you want to compare, try the virtual tour of London's Courtauld Gallery that Synthescape developed and links to on its website. It's way better than any of the virtual tours on Google Art Project. Or you might like to look at the interactive website they developed with Tate Modern for that museum's 2008-2009 Mark Rothko exhibition.

"We've been doing this type of work for years now," wrote Sythescape's managing director, Darin Freitag, in a letter to me this morning, "and have always obsessed about image quality, consider that something sacred, strive always for perfection and to be as faithful as possible to the artist's work... "

Freitag went on to write something about the quality of Google's imagery that he would prefer I didn't reproduce, before adding: "That so many critics and directors - persons whom I'd assumed to be discriminating about image quality... - have leapt to their feet to applaud what Google have done - well, I find it all quite perplexing."

It's an interesting perspective, and goes to my point about Google's ability to hype their own adaptations of technology that is already out there, and often in more advanced form than their own. 

A final point about my perspective. I have no doubt Google Art Project will have a big impact, and I have no trouble seeing that it provides a valuable service. My point was twofold: I am underwhelmed by the quality of what it offers. And I think that it's helpful - to balance out the rampant technophilia we all tend to succumb to - to be reminded of things that are fundamental about the experience of art and which, to my mind, Google Art Project, for all its interest, fails to really advance.


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