Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Alone in the Virtual Museum - New Yorker - postedby FFAB

Alone in the Virtual Museum
The New Yorker
By Alexandra Schwartz

 One afternoon last June, while traveling in Naples, I went out wandering and found myself standing in the kind of vast cobblestone square that seems designed for a Fascist rally or the celebration of a royal birth. To my right stood a building that looked like a steroidal homage to the Pantheon; to my left, a long, squat loaf of a mansion that turned out to be the Palazzo Reale, the urban seat of the Bourbon monarchs during their rule, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I bought a ticket, and found myself in an entrance hall of white, pink, and black marble, dominated by two cascading staircases leading away from one another and toward the vaulted, absinthe-colored ceiling far above. Each could have easily fit four horsemen riding side by side; you could almost hear the hiss made by silk dresses sweeping down the steps and the laughter of the women wearing them. Apart from a half dozen guards playing cards at a small folding table, I was alone. “Go up either one,” a guard wearing an eye patch made entirely of masking tape told me, and I proceeded up the left staircase and through a series of ornate rooms decorated with silk wallpaper and gilded mirrors and portraits of the thick-faced, ogreish Bourbons. Though I occasionally crossed paths with three or four other dazed visitors, I was otherwise left entirely to myself.

I felt a similar solitude the other day, while walking through a ghostly Metropolitan Museum, starting by the Tiffany windows in the American wing and working my way back through medieval art and European sculptures to the front atrium, without encountering a soul. Or maybe “walking” is too anthropomorphic a way to put it; the motion was closer to a glide, or to the bobbing of a stunned moth. My visit was courtesy of Google Art Project, which, in the case of the Met, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and a number of other institutions, offers partial glimpses, via Google Street View, into great art and archeology sites around the world, under the aegis of the company’s Cultural Institute. Among other things, the Cultural Institute seeks to change the way that art is looked at on the Internet by displaying high-resolution images of a growing range of art works—street art was added this summer—and by ushering people through virtual tours of the places where those art works can be seen.

Some critics complain that Google’s initiative to take us on virtual trips through museums and to show us great pieces of art on demand, as we sit gazing at our laptops, will discourage people from actually going to these institutions. This is flatly untrue. Museum attendance is on the rise, dramatically so. The Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, currently hosts 9.3 million visitors annually, and, as the Art Newspaper reported in July, it expects a thirty-per-cent increase, to twelve million a year, by 2025. In second and third place are the British Museum, with 6.7 million visitors a year, and the Met, with 6.2, and the rest of the globe is catching up fast. In 2013, the most visited paying show anywhere was an exhibition of artifacts from the Western Zhou Dynasty, held at the National Palace Museum in Taipei (ten thousand nine hundred and forty six people a day), and the most visited show free of charge was an exhibition of Impressionist works at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, in Rio (more than eight thousand). People want to walk through the halls and look at the stuff on the walls, and, increasingly, they’re doing just that. It’s worth mentioning that a number of museums are jumping on the digital bandwagon, putting pieces from their collections on Pinterest, as the Getty is doing, or, like the Rijksmuseum, making entire collections available on their Web sites and encouraging Web visitors to download favorite images; these are not the actions of institutions that fear for their lives.

Full New Yorker Article here

I posted last year about the Google project here

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