Google's Art Historical Turn: Art Project

I'm excited -- in addition to having access to countless databases, such as JSTOR, for online teaching purposes, Google has launched a virtual Grand Tour of museums around the world. As an art historian and artist, the first thoughts that arose were along the lines of identity politics -- will this Art Project fail in terms of the representation of women, for instance? How soon will I see Sylvia Sleigh's images or a comprehensive section that includes Black or Latina communities? How will ephemeral or larger-than-usual scale art be represented? I'd love to see work by recently deceased artist, Jeanne-Claude, and her longtime partner, Christo!

Here's a fun and subversive painting by Sleigh, which puts Orientalist and sexist visual text through the wringer:

The Turkish Bath (1973)Image via Wikipedia

So far, I've read several articles about the potential for such an undertaking, and the responses have been optimistic, while others are posing critical observations already -- collectively, it's a fantastic start to the fledgling survey of institutions worldwide.

Google's following a trend that many have taken far beyond the apparent DIY spirit that tends to dominate the interpretations of online communities. Some of my favorite sites (think Wooster Collective) have carried this approach to all corners of the world, and having them bookmarked is a privilege that I value as a scholar. So while everyone's impressed by the recent Art Project unveiling to the public, don't forget about other groups who have been building these directories for awhile already.

The internet has co-opted the museum, and we must recall the origins of the museum -- the "cabinet of curiosities." According to the excerpt displayed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website, this is what collectors sought to capture and display to guests:

The three ingredients for success in showcasing a collector's panoramic education and broad humanist learning were naturalia (products of nature), arteficialia (or artefacta, the products of man), and scientifica (the testaments of man's ability to dominate nature, such as astrolabes, clocks, automatons, and scientific instruments).

Where do women fit into these categories? Typically, women are associated with naturalia that are on display for placid contemplation or arousal from the viewer. The exclusive nature of history continues to affect our notions of women, art, and culture beyond our own experiences. This is why I am not getting too carried away with my wishes for Art Project -- as long as the materials eventually get there, we must think ahead to how we translate the art experience (and the mercurial act of commodification) in the 21st century.

I remember getting my mind blown in Cambridge, England -- my teacher was a cool, Scottish transplant who had been to one of the first Sex Pistols shows. She also introduced me to John Berger's challenging interpretations, Whitney Chadwick, and countless artists -- many of whom were discussed in ways that shaped my own pursuits later. These materials, and her active dialogue, were the first push towards disavowing information as unbiased or absolute. As we can see, there is no lack of women as subjects in the Art Project thus far, and it's up to curators, Google, users, and the media to calibrate this new, and widely influential, platform.

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