Even while the buzz behind the Google Art Project, or GAP for short, has expectedly died down (as the 24/7 news cycle naturally does), as a technology, it continues to pose important questions. Most importantly, perhaps, are the possibilities for ways in which GAP will now continue to surreptitiously affect the methods and means by we come to view and understand art and the “original.”
Previously, the issue of art as image was raised both in relation to the way we view as well as disseminate works (whether it be locally, nationally, or internationally). Art, once captured in some replaceable, repeatable, or re-playable form, is imbued with global potential. As a distributable image, art is opened to a level of comparison, analysis, and a life outside of itself which is decidedly more expansive. As the saying goes, there is power in numbers. However, as much as this understanding and dialogue is often still sustained in the world outside of the form that the piece itself occupies, there is still the myth of the original and the space the original resides.
Here, it is interesting to touch on the role of the museum. In Douglas Crimp’s essay, On The Museum’s Ruins, amongst other points he addresses photography and the role of the museum as a site of historical curation. Crimp speaks to the concept of ‘the museum without walls’ and writes, “But photography not only secures the admittance of various objects, fragments of objects, details of objects to the museum, it is also the organizing device: it reduces the now even vaster heterogeneity to a single perfect similitude. Through photographic reproduction a cameo takes up residence on the page next to a painted tondo or a sculpted relief; a detail of a Rubens in Antwerp is compared to that of a Michelangelo in Rome.” In other words, through cataloging and the photograph, art is able to enter “the great superoeuvre, art as ontology, created not by men and women in their historical contingencies but by Man in his very being.”
Furthermore, Quoting André Malraux’s text Museum, Crimp describes the act of photographing paintings as reducing them to “color plates,” and that in this process, “they have lost their property as objects; but, by the same token, they have gained something: the utmost significance as to a style that they can possibly acquire.” That is, to propose that through this process an essence, not an aura but a reductive quality of a different kind, is therefore extracted from the piece. In other words, to borrow a phrase from from art critic Leo Steinberg’s Other Criteria, the picture is “conceived as the image of an image.”
So, while the aura of a pice, the je ne sais quoi that being physically present in a space allows, is never fully present in a print, slide, or digital representation; I would argue that this is not what the camera is meant to allow. While our comprehension of an image can be transcendent of time and space, I believe our experience of the image is in fact altered by the minute details of a work in a given city in a given space.
GAP reflects the speed at which society is in a continual process of renewal. Not only do I foresee GAP as not only providing a revolutionary service in the arena of the fine arts, but impacting the way museums structure exhibitions that remain relevant to the demands of an increasingly dynamic public. And while, through to the lack in live news discussion, we might once again fail to recognize the role of the reproduction of art in our visual lives, this is not to say that it is a force that requires our cognizant acknowledgement in order to continue its work.
- Crimp, Douglas, and Louise Lawler. On the Museum’s Ruins. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1993. Print.
- Steinberg, Leo. “The Flatbed Picture Plane.” Art in Theory. By Charles Harrison. Malden, Mass. [u.a.: Blackwell, 2008. 972-76. Print.