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Zoom-Zoom-Zoom


by Jerome Weeks 22 Jan 2009

I’ve had fun with Google Earth before — like the digital architectural reconstructions in “Google Earth / Ancient Rome 3D” which look a lot cleaner than the absolute sewer the city looked like in HBO’s Rome. But I hadn’t checked out its latest advance in depth until this morning. That’s because, to get the full […]

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I’ve had fun with Google Earth before — like the digital architectural reconstructions in “Google Earth / Ancient Rome 3D” which look a lot cleaner than the absolute sewer the city looked like in HBO’s Rome. But I hadn’t checked out its latest advance in depth until this morning. That’s because, to get the full effect, you have to download more than 7.4 MB of data. Which the wheezing old computer at home was not about to do just so I could peer closely at masterpieces in the Prado.

Ah, but the computer here in the office is another matter. And of course, all this time-wasting fun is entirely work-related.

Actually, even with Google Earth 1.0, you’ve been able to zip around the planet and call up photos of different artworks at museums. (The DMA, for instance, has a handful of images, mostly of outdoor statuary). But those images are very limited and completely static. Frankly, I also found (and still find) the interface a little tricky-frustrating to use — it’s very speedy-zoomy, so you’re constantly clicking on what you hope is the right dot, only to find you’re looking at info on a nearby restaurant. And the accompanying Wikipedia entries can be less than helpful or overload you with irrelevant travel book minutiae.

But Google’s new gizmonic advance takes the zooming to an almost microsopic level. Once you’ve downloaded it, punch in the coordinates for the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Click on the white square for the museum, and it will show you a selection box of various masterpieces that have been photographed in ultra-hi-def resolution. This allows you to focus on select quadrants, brushtrokes, highlights, even individual cracks in the paint from such works as Velazquez’ Las Meninas, Goya’s 3rd of May or Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

At the moment, this is only available at the Prado. But the Fort Worth Modern’s blog wonders whether this online wonder will replace the ‘museum experience’ in the future. I don’t think so — contrary to some arguments, there’s little evidence that people will flock to see copies, no matter how accurate they may be (and in many cases, if they’re full-size accurate, they’ll be so costly they’ll offer little savings for tours or exhibitions).

Once upon a time, television was advertised as the ‘death of the travel industry.’ Why go to Paris when you can see it on a box at home? Funny how that didn’t happen. The sensory-social experience of visiting Paris (or artworks in a museum) is so much more than a single, flat simulacra on a screen. But the question does cut to the entire, somewhat contrary purpose of the museum-archive in a digital age: This is the era of countless, cost-free copies, and museums are in the business of unique, often priceless, singular objects.

The YouTube video above simply displays how the ‘zoom museum’ works.  The video below is a much more elaborate “making of” document, complete with an inappropriate musical score (Mozart? No Spanish music?). Think of it as a min-History Channel show.

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