You might know that seventeenth-century Dutch vanitas paintings are incredibly detailed and tightly controlled still lifes. But have you seen each of the four insects on the white flower in Rachel Ruysch’s bouquet? The reproduction in an art history textbook is much too small to reveal the pattern on the spider’s back, and Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge resides in a gallery of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. You might think you have no choice but to travel to the American capitol to examine this extraordinary painting, but thanks to Google Arts & Culture, you can actually experience Ruysch’s masterpiece anytime, anywhere, without setting off any alarms.
This week, the Google Cultural Institute introduced two updates for the Google Arts & Culture app and website. The program launched last year —and has provided an inspiring Instagram feed since – but its newest features may the most exciting yet.
In addition to the riveting Zoom In feature, original daily stories, and seemingly limitless ways of organizing thousands of years of art, you can now take virtual reality tours of monuments and museums via Google Cardboard. You can step into the Water Lilies room at Musée de l’Orangerie and finally wander through Sicily’s Valle Dei Templi in the same day.
The second new feature is Art Recognizer. Simply aim your phone’s camera at the work in question as if you were taking a photo (Remember: No Flash!), and the app will identify it along with information about the artist, the work itself, and the art historical tradition behind it. Art Recognizer is currently only available in London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The Google Cultural Institute plans to incorporate more collections into this feature, and it has already formed partnerships with major institutions worldwide, such as The Met and MAXXI.
Certainly, the viewer’s physical presence is nearly always a vital part of experiencing a work of art. Texture, scale, color, and overall mood might not fluently translate to a phone screen, but the Google Arts & Culture app is more than utilizing technology to look at art on a mobile device. It’s not about walking through the Louvre while sitting on your sofa – the program increases access to art and cultural institutions worldwide, encourages people to learn about art at their own pace, and presents art in an approachable and engaging way.
Want to explore 106 works made of sand or expand your understanding of Apartheid through documentary photography? In the mood to look at Expressionist paintings but only those featuring the color red? Download the app on iTunes, or Google Play, and instantly discover more about movements from Der Blaue Reiter to Ukiyo-e.