The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is joining the innovative Google Art Project — the Internet behemoth's online database of high-resolution images from some of the world's most renowned galleries, including London's Tate Modern, New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Uffizi in Florence.
"While the partnership began just before my tenure, the Art Project is precisely the type of work we want to do in the coming years," MFAH director Gary Tinterow told CultureMap in a phone interview, "especially when in conjunction with such a massively popular portal like Google."
Select works are rendered in super high-resolution gigapixel technology, enabling vi ewers to study details of the brushwork and patina unable to be seen with the naked eye.
Nothing tops seeing art in person, of course, but Google's ultra-zoom feature manages to give reality a run for its money, allowing viewers to see works close enough to give any museum guard heart palpitations.
Take the raging seascape of J.M.W. Turner's Sheerness as Seen from the Nore, just one of the MFAH's 183 offerings in the database. With the zoom tool, viewers can hone in on a tiny trio of sailors clinging to a small skiff as massive waves overwhelm a harbor of ships. Google Art gives enough detail to see one of the men smoking and the gentle cracks in Turner's original paint work.
About 50 participating galleries in the Art Project have contributed one artwork to be photographed using super high-resolution gigapixel technology that enables viewers to study details of the brushstrokes and patina unable to be seen with the naked eye. Google Art users, for example, can see each dot of paint in Georges Seurat's pointillist masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte or the minute workers in Bruegel the Elder’s Tower of Babel.
"This will be an incredible tool for art historians," Tinterow noted, adding that the MFAH hopes to contribute gigapixel renderings of some of its more detailed works. "It's one thing to fly to the Hermitage to see a major work, but another to be able to explore a painting or object this closely."
After an initial launch of 1,000 images in early 2011, the newly expanded Google Art Project has grown to 30,000 works from 151 international institutions, ranging from paintings to sculpture and street art and photographs.
For perhaps the Art Project's coolest feature, Museum View, Google's street cameras made their way indoors, allowing viewers across the globe to wander the galleries of 46 museums like the Museum of Modern Art and Musée d'Orsay.
"The Google Art Project is a way to help people grasp just how much work is available in museums around the world," MFAH communications director Mary Haus said. "We were honored to be a part of a project that provides such unprecedented access to art."