Google is Changing the definition of museum its art it art Chief had say the tech giant unveiled artificial intelligence that can match your sofa cushions or children’s drawings to the world’s great paintings.
Critics have expressed fears that Google’s art project, which puts millions of images from museum collections online and allows users to match their selfies to portraits, will create a generation that accesses art only via a smartphone.
Amit Sood, director of Google Arts and Culture, said museums and galleries must respond to the changing landscape by making themselves destinations that do more than display paintings and artefacts.
Asked if the company was creating a problem for the future viability of museums, Sood said: “Museums have a role to make their spaces different. I think this is not a problem, this is an opportunity, because you are changing the definition of the word ‘museum’ from it being a building.”
He gave the example of Tate Modern’s current Superflex installation in the Turbine Hall, which features swings and a colourful carpet on which visitors are encouraged to sit or lie down.
Parents should take their children to physical museums if they can, Sood said, but in great swathes of the world that is impossible and the internet is the only means to access art.
“In the West we are so used to having these masterpieces and this cultural heritage on our doorstep,” he said. “But not every country will be able to build hundreds of physical structures and acquire hundreds of millions of artworks. It’s just not practical.”
At the Google Lab in Paris this week, Sood and his team unveiled their latest experiments.
The first is Art Palette, in which a user chooses a colour and an algorithm instantly brings up a series of artworks featuring that exact shade. Google believes it has many practical applications, from inspiring fashion designers to letting homeowners find an art print that doesn’t clash with their sofa cushions.
Another experiment, this one at the prototype stage, is Draw to Art. Likely to be addictively popular with children and adults, it invites users to draw simple sketches directly onto a smartphone or tablet screen then brings up artworks bearing the closest resemblance.
They follow the success of the Google Art selfie feature. Sood said his team was constantly looking to make art accessible “and if that entry point means taking a selfie and matching it to an 18th century portrait that has been visited maybe 50 times in the last five years in a remote part of the country, I’m sorry, but that’s a win-win for the museum, for the artwork and for the user,” he said.
The Google Art project started with 17 museums and now numbers 1,600. In a week that Lord Hall of Birkenhead, director-general of the BBC, accused Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix of mining “every ounce of personal data to drive growth and profit”, Sood said Google Arts is a valuable tool.
“I don’t think it’s power, I think it’s soft credibility.”