Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The real via the virtual – Google Art expands

When I was at Museums and the Web 2012 last month, a number of museum people had come direct from the launch of the second round of the Google Art Project in Paris. Google Art, to remind you, was launched in early 2011 with 17 museums participating. At Museums and the Web last year there had been a somewhat hostile reception to the concept, alleviated by the participating museums all saying it had been the best thing for them in terms of driving viewers to their web site and thence through their doors to see the real thing - see my previous blogs on the issue.
Such has been the success of Google Art that a number of museums were feeling a bit miffed that their directors had turned down the initial overtures from Google on the grounds it might cheapen their offering. Now Round Two with 134 new museums on line has hit the web, in great secrecy as all participants, as with Round One, were under incredibly onerous contracts not to reveal they were in cahoots with Google. And it appears there will be more to come, but now with the ability for museums to self nominate for inclusion.

With a total of 30,000 artworks on line, almost all the big hitters are part of the project including a number of Australian museums (AGNSW, NGV and the National Gallery of Australia). Interestingly the offering has also expanded into three dimensional collections, including those of Museum Victoria. I even see there are a couple of the more quirky small collections that I have been involved in from around the world including the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul and the Ayala Museum in Manila. And the good news is there is more to come.

With such a richer bank of information now available, the ability to cross search is much more rewarding. What I particularly like is the User Galleries, where individuals can aggregate and share artworks that appeal to them into their own collection. Check out particularly Just Something in my Gut and Mick’s Pics.

Which leads me to an interesting article that appeared in The Guardian ten days ago reporting on a Guardian Culture Professionals Network online chat on ‘What’s next for Museums? In it Jim Richardson, founder of MuseumNext, the European equivalent to Museums and the Web, which took place last week in Barcelona, painted a picture of a ‘hyper personalised museum of the future where you can learn what you like as you browse the galleries, understand the level of information you’d like about each piece and then tailor that for you. I also think the museum experience is becoming increasingly collaborative. Museums are becoming more comfortable with letting audiences have a say.”

All this activity bodes well for an ever expanding opportunity for access to collections, whether real or virtual, with the two now increasingly inseparable.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director