Amit Sood, the Bombay-born director of Google’s Cultural Institute and Art Project, is showing me a computer programme that would have made the Surrealists cry with joy. It is X Degrees of Separation, by the artists Mario Klingemann and Simon Doury, which uses computer vision algorithms to make random connections between any two works of art, like a game of Exquisite Corpse to the power of a hundred. It is a product of their Experiments section, where they bring artists who are currently at the cutting edge of technology and connect them to their database of images and their partner museums so that they can collaborate.
This is the left field of Google Arts & Culture, the not-for-profit segment of Google founded in 2011 as part of the Google Cultural Institute to digitise the works of art in museums. It purposely avoids defining culture—in 2016 it added natural history to its spread—but it does not do popular culture “because plenty of others do that”, Sood says. They now partner with 1,500 museums and cultural institutions in 70 countries.
The Google Art Camera takes images in such high resolution that you can see the brushstrokes of a painting or the tiniest intricacy of an embroidery; it gives the closest one can get to the “hands-on” experience of a work of art without actually touching it. Museums can also upload their own images, and six million photos, videos, manuscripts and other documents of art, culture and history—including hundreds of thousands of hi-res images of works of art—are now on the platform. These are presented institution by institution, exhibition by exhibition (6,000 of them), or in “stories”, worked on by Google and its partnering institutions. Read more