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Art Project brings masterpieces in for a close-up

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Art enthusiasts can now get geeky with Google’s new art experience. Or maybe Google wants computer types to get cultured from the comfort of their own wireless networks.

The latest Google offering, Art Project, takes viewers inside 17 museums in the U.S. and Europe. They can view art from an inside-the-museum perspective or in a slideshow. An adjustable magnifying rectangle allows viewers to inspect works inch by inch.

The Art Project site describes its function: “Explore museums from around the world, discover and view hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share your own collection of masterpieces.”

“It is very much a work in progress, full of bugs and information gaps, and sometimes blurry, careering virtual tours. But it is already a mesmerizing, world-expanding tool for self-education,” writes Roberta Smith, art critic for The New York Times.

Users can select paintings from a dropdown menu and view them against a black background. In “museum” view, they can use directional arrows to virtually walk around a room, like being in a video game but without armed enemies jumping out at you — and no visitors blocking sight of the paintings.

In museum view, visitors travel into different exhibition rooms by clicking on rooms (most labeled with numbers instead of art period) on a floor plan. Then they get a list of pieces in the room. It’d be nice, though, to have a list of the rooms by theme. Also, captions, labeling title and artist alongside the painting, would be nice.

Perhaps this will be a great tool for art history professors, students, and those wishing to prep for a visit to one of the included museums. But it can’t replace the experience of seeing a masterpiece in person. A digital van Gogh would look, well, obviously, flat, with impasto layers, made by applying paint with a palette knife, compressed, and vivid color palettes translated into RGB. Art Project, however, gets rid of those pesky security guards.

Museums include:

Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Palace of Versailles, Versailles
MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
The Frick Collection, New York City
The State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington, DC
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Tate Britain, London
Museo Thyssen – Bornemisza, Madrid
National Gallery, London
Museum Kampa, Prague

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