Picture yourself standing within inches of Chagall’s magnificent ceiling at the Paris Opéra, examining every last detailed brushstroke of the surrealist masterpiece. Or strolling through the back streets of Paris in the company of urban explorer and photographer David de Rueda. This is the stuff art dreams are made of, experiences that only the luckiest of art aficionados may have the chance to enjoy—if they’re really, really lucky.
But thanks to a new Google online platform, you don’t even need to leave your home to relish in some of the world’s most amazing art. Since not everyone has the time or money to travel the world appreciating global culture or the connections to access such masterpieces, the Google Cultural Institute has partnered with more than 1,100 institutions, making available more than 400,000 artworks and 5 million photos, videos, manuscripts and other documents online, to everyone, for free. And not just make available, but curated with virtual tours, online exhibitions, a searchable database, and a bounty of other ways to experience the world’s foremost cultural treasures. It’s a platform called Google Arts & Culture, available via website and app.
Admittedly, the site is a little confusing to navigate. The best thing to do is just play and see what you discover. You will be rewarded wherever you end up. The homepage changes daily with different features, while the hamburger menu provides navigation to artists, art movements, partner institutions, and the like.
Here’s a primer on the absolutely-do-not-miss highlights.
Explore a Database of Artworks
You can sort through thousands of masterpieces from thousands of museums in more than 70 different countries. Use the search tool to search for anything: shoes, all things silver, Egyptian cats, Bordeaux, whatever you choose. You also can search by artist, medium, art movement, museum (search by partner), even object. Or scroll through an artist’s repertoire by time period (for example, see Rembrandt’s evolution as an artist, one painting at a time, here) or color (see here).
Zoom in to See Masterpiece Secrets
Google has devised advanced technology to hone into the extraordinary detail of images, paintings, artifacts and more, far beyond what you can see with the naked eye. One of the most amazing stories concerns Paris Opéra’s ceiling by Marc Chagall. Chagall’s son, David McNeil, had always heard that his father had painted a picture of him as a baby but he never knew where it was – until they found it embedded in the Paris Opéra ceiling, near the Stravinsky panel, during this Google project. Take a peek here.
Take a Virtual Tour
Get up close and personal to hundreds of art institutions and cultural icons—the Statue of Liberty, Sagrada Familia, Fenway Park—where you can drag your finger around the image and tap to move through an exhibit or location in a museum-themed version of Google Street View. It’s like you’re personally visiting the site, studying what’s on the walls, on the floor, in the next room, whatever interests you, without actually being there. And it’s not just big museums here–check out, for example, the Wyeth-Tootle Mansion in St. Joseph, Missouri. Some also require the use of a virtual reality viewer to enhance the experience (such as Google Cardboard; the website shows you how to make your own; see here).
See Secret Spaces in 360
Join urban explorer and photographer David de Rueda in an exploration of Paris’ secret side in a feature called Curio-Cité, best seen on your mobile phone with a virtual reality viewer and headphones. This is just the first of many such explorations to be created.
Get Good Old-Fashioned Museum Info
Should you be planning to physically visit a museum, you can check opening hours, its location on a map, and daily events.
Enjoy an Interactive Online Exhibit
Google offers a series of different online exhibits in which you can delve into archival materials, objects, and stories typically not available to the typical museum visitor. There are straightforward museum visits as well as curated exhibits centering on various themes. The American Democracy collection, for example, brings together more than 70 exhibits and 2,500 artifacts from 44 institutions dedicated to the preservation of U.S. political history and American democracy. Take a peek here. That said, the behind-the-scenes tour of London’s Natural History tank room, curated by Oliver Crimmen, the museum’s Senior Curator of Fish, has to be one of the more unusual tours you’ll find. Among the things he’ll show you are specimens collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle.
Read Fascinating New Stories About Art Every Day
Google experts post featured new stories every day, offering insight (and photos) into different angles of art and culture. Recent ones include: “Weird Histories: The Peacock Room,” exploring the history of Whistler’s beautiful London dining room, currently at home in Washington’s Freer Gallery; ”Virtual Herbal Garden,” taking you to the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences; and “Black and British: A Forgotten History,” a four-part series delving into Britain’s slave narrative. As you will see, these are not light and fluffy fillers!
Enhance a Personal Visit
If you find yourself taking a physical tour of a museum, check out a new feature that several museums are offering through Google Arts & Culture. With Art Recognizer, you point your phone at a painting to access a bounty of info about it. For now, this is available only at Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, and London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery. But Google is planning to roll this out in museums around the world, so stay tuned.
There’s Much, Much More
Just play around with the website and you’ll come across all kinds of fascinating offerings. The folks at Google are constantly innovating–there’s even a page that shows their experiments at the crossroads of art and technology. You can bet this site will continue to be massaged and improved upon and enlarged. Stay tuned!