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Google Art Project premieres upgrades at Chicago

Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

CHICAGO – High tech merged with high culture Tuesday at The Art Institute of Chicago when Google announced an upgrade to its Google Art Project initiative, adding thousands of works in dozens more countries.

The project provides access to more than 30,000 ultra-high resolution images of paintings, sculptures and photographs from 151 museums and other institutions in 40 countries.

Google Art Project launched in February 2011 with about 1,000 artworks from such institutions as the Tate Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Uffizi in Florence and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

“From now on anyone can visit these great institutions with just the click of a mouse,” Google President Margo Georgiadis said. “This project breaks down all of the barriers and allows people to study art in a seamless way.”

It’s all part of Google’s ambitious effort to enable anyone with an Internet-connected device to check out the vast reservoir of human knowledge and creativity stored in libraries and museums around the world.

Google already has made digital copies of more than 15 million books during the past seven years, although it can only show snippets from many of them because of copyright restrictions. The company also has been scanning manuscripts and other documents in public and academic libraries.

Now, the Internet search leader is expanding its art collection.

Google Art Project also offers a virtual tour of 46 museums using the high-tech giant’s Google Street technology. With images larger than a gigapixel (1 billion pixels), the zoom-in feature allows viewers to get inside cracks in the parchment and other details that are not visible to the naked eye.

“They certainly wouldn’t let us get this close inside the galleries,” said Google engineer Piotr Adamczyk, who is on the company’s team that developed the project.

The Art Institute of Chicago has 150 works on Google Art Project, but more contemporary pieces from noted artists such as Matisse and Picasso aren’t among them. Those works are still under copyright until 70 years after the artists’ deaths.

Regardless, Art Institute Director Douglas Druick said the Google Art Project provides valuable exposure for the museum.

“By sharing works of art in this way, all it will do is increase the interest in visual works of art and the desire to come to institutions like the Art Institute,” Druick said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel focused on the educational aspects of the initiative.

“The teacher will be allowed to tell students before a field trip to go look up particular pieces we’re going to go see and then see them live,” Emanuel said.

Google hasn’t disclosed how much its patronage of the arts is costing. The company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., can easily afford the expense with $45 billion in the bank.

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