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Arielle Orem 


Engineers and developers are constantly trying to innovate ways to bridge the gap between physical space (reality) and virtual space (virtual reality).  Overcoming this divide is also becoming increasingly of interest to museum professionals as they seek to “join up the museum experience with the online experience, taking the museum beyond the boundaries of the physical building and allowing online visitors into the museum” (Patten). In his essay“Web Lab – bridging the divide between the online and in-museum experience,Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Science Museum London, describes the current Web Lab exhibition consisting of five Google Chrome experiments: Lab Tag Explorer, Universal Orchestra, Teleporters, Sketchbots, and Data Tracer. The exhibition utilizes several types of technology to bridge the gap, including streaming video feeds from web cameras inside the physical museum, HTML5 and advanced browser capabilities, and robotics to visually represent data. “For example, [visitors] can see how the Data Tracer experiment uses WebGI to generate the 3D map they fly through when following their image search” (Patten).

The Lab Tag Explorer Experiment is made up of several parts: the Lab Tag dispenser, the Lab Tag writer, and the Lab Tag Explorer. When you “enter” the exhibition (both online and in the physical museum), you are assigned a Lab Tag, a unique identifier which is used to mark your presence within the exhibition; the Lab Tag also allows you to capture and store information that you wish to return to later. In the physical museum,guests receive a Lab Tag by visiting the Lab Tag dispenser; Lab Tags are automatically assigned by the browser for online visitors. According to Patten:

“[The Lab Tag Writer] carries the title of the exhibition and a real-time count of the number of users who are currently online in Web Lab… The effect is to help draw physical visitors down to the exhibition and at the same time make them aware they are joining something… The key aims of the Lab Tag Writer are to help physical visitors understand they are about to enter an exhibition that is already being used by lots of people online, and to help them understand the global nature of Web Lab.”  

The Lab Tag Explorer emphasizes the globally-networked nature of the exhibition by allowing users to save and review their own Web Lab creative projects and share their projects creations through their existing social media networks. Visitors can also view other visitors’ projects.

Each of the other four experiments -Universal Orchestra, Teleporters, Sketchbots, and Data Tracer-  reinforce this same central theme: “[museum visitors] are sharing Web Lab with visitors from around the world” (Patten). The Web Lab exhibition explores ways in which museums can integrate physical and virtual museum spaces.

Google, an integral contributor to the Web Lab project, has taken it’s own approach to joining together the physical and virtual worlds through the Google Cultural Institute, which includes the Google Art Project (GAP). The GAP bridges the gap by creating a virtual museum, partnering with physical museums across the world to bring art objects to a global audience. This essay examines the extension of the museum into the virtual space using the Google Art Project as a case study.

Background: Understanding the Museum Space

In order to understand the significance of the GAP and its implications for contemporary art, museums, and culture, it is important to discuss the history of the museum as an institution and an industry. In the past, the museum has been considered as a type of sacred space where cultural knowledge is produced. Within that space, museums acted as thought leaders, framing the conversations about art objects, art history, and contemporary culture.

Sacred Authority of Museum Space

Critical of the discourse of modernity offered by twentieth century scholars, Michael Foucault  sought to present a more precise description of his own unique historical moment. In 1967, Foucault delivered a lecture (which was later published as Of Other Spaces in 1984) on the importance of spaces and the ways in which space is considered and discussed. In the past, there were clear distinctions between spaces, a “hierarchical ensemble of places: sacred places and profane places; protected places and open, exposed places; urban places and rural places… It was this complete hierarchy, this opposition, this intersection of places that constituted what could very roughly be called medieval spaces: the space of emplacement” (Foucault, 372). Foucault acknowledges that these separations still exist to some extent, but – recognizing the increasing interconnected, yet often contradictory, nature of contemporary society – suggests two new primary types of spaces: utopias and heterotopias.

“Utopias are sites with no real places. They are sites that have a general relation of direct of inverted analogy with the real space of Society. They present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces.” (Foucault, 374)

 ”[Heterotopias] are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality.” (Foucault, 374)

Foucault  concerns himself primarily with heterotopias and goes on to describe five main principles of heterotopias:

  1. Heterotopias exist in all societies (Foucault, 375)
  2. Over time, societies can change the function of existing heterotopias (Foucault, 375)
  3. Heterotopias are “capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (Foucault, 376)
  4. “Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time” which can be either accumulating or fleeting (Foucault, 377)
  5. Heterotopias are “not freely accessible like a public space… to get in one must have certain permission and make certain gestures” (Foucault, 378)

These principles can be applied to understanding the museum as a heterotopic space. For this discussion, I am using “museum” to mean an institution that collects works of art and displays them for the edification of audiences. As such, “museums” have existed in all societies although they were sometimes known by different names – churches, universities, or private domestic collections. Over time, these “museums” were transformed into the institutions we recognize today as museums; we are now witnessing the next transformation of these institutions as they transition into the digital world through projects like the GAP. The Google Art Project can be considered as a type of heterotopic space, operating as a virtual museum; this topic is discussed in greater detail in later in this essay.

From Sacred to Secular: The Loss of Aura through Reproduction

In his “Introduction to Museum Without Walls,”Andre Malraux discusses the history of museums and their transition to the type of institution that we recognize as a museum today. The discourse surrounding museums changed as the museum transitioned into a new type of institution; additionally, new discourse was created by these new institutions – the discourse of art history. Malraux argues that museums “are so much a part of our lives today that we forget they have imposed on the spectator a wholly new attitude toward the work of art; they have tended to estrange the works they bring together from their original functions and to transform even portraits into pictures” (Malraux, 386). The separation of the artwork from its origin echoes Walter Benjamin’s ideas about the loss of aura.

Benjamin, in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), was concerned with the impact that mechanical reproductive technologies would have on art, arguing that there was a shift in emphasis from cult value to exhibition value. In contemporary culture it is more important for a work of art to be seen by many and be well-recognized (requiring numerous reproductions in exhibition catalogs, promotional media, etc…) than to be held in high regard by an elite, esteemed few. Aware of the importance of attracting large audiences, curators seek out works of art that are entertaining or shocking; this influences many artists to produce a very specific type of work and limits creativity.

Benjamin also discusses the implications of technology on art and society, tracing the transition of art from a cult(ural) object created for the contemplative few to a political object distributed to the masses. Authenticity and the concept of “an original” are integral to Benjamin’s argument: “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.”  Benjamin attributes a sense of authority to authentic artworks, saying, “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.”

Foucault also confronts the impact that the contemporary museum has had on art and literature in his essay “Fantasia of the Library” (1977). He says: “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe and Olympia [by Manet] were perhaps the first ‘museum’ paintings, the first paintings in European art that were less a response to the achievement of Giorgione, Raphael, and Velasquez than an acknowledgement… of the new and substantial relationship of painting to itself, as a manifestation of the existence of museums and the particular reality and interdependence that paintings acquire in museums” (Crimp, 47). Manet became famous during the modern era for using his artwork to point out the relationship between a painting and its sources; for example, Manet’s Olympia remixes Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Contemporary, post-modern artists continue this trend using reproductive technologies; this is the topic of Douglas Crimp’s essay “On the Museum’s Ruins” (1980). Crimp uses Rauschenberg as an example of a postmodern artist.  In his artwork Crocus (1962), Rauschenberg remixes Manet’s work by simply silkscreening photographs of Olympia onto a canvas, juxtaposed with images of trucks, helicopters, and insects. Artists are aware of the “estrangement” that takes place when a work of art enters the museum and are expressing their reactions to this phenomenon in their artistic creations.

Changing Perceptions of Space: Re-mediating the Museum

As Benjamin points out, mechanical reproductions of artworks alter perceptions of space/place/time and can often reveal things about the original that were not visible or noticed with the naked eye. Reproductions also allow for greater audiences to experience a version of the original that would not be possible otherwise. Malraux is primarily concerned with the use of photography to reproduce art and, by extension, re-mediate real space. Through photography, Malraux argues that “a museum without walls has been opened to us, and it will carry infinitely further that limited revelation of the world of art which the real museums offer us within their walls; in answer to their appeal, the plastic arts have produced their printing press” (Malraux, 371). I think that digital technologies allow this “museum without walls” to expand exponentially by re-mediating the museum.

In Remediation: Understanding New Media (2000),Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin argue that “new media are doing exactly what their predecessors have done: presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media… what is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media” (14-15). Virtual museums projects could be considered a remediation of the traditional museum.

Bolter and Grusin identify the “double logic of remediation;” that is, “our culture’s [desire] both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation” (5). This double logic rests on two main principles: immediacy and hypermediacy. “Immediacy dictates that the medium itself should disappear and leave us in the presence of the thing represented: sitting in the race car or standing on a mountaintop” (Bolter and Grusin, 6). As the authors point out, this aspect of remediation is not a novel invention brought about by digital media; painting, photography, and computer systems for virtual reality all “seek to put the viewer in the same space as the objects viewed” (Bolter and Grusin, 11). Hypermediacy works in opposition to immediacy, revealing the mediation by combining multiple forms of media into a single media object; “hypermediated forms ask us to take pleasure in the act of mediation” (Bolter and Grusin, 14).

Immediacy can be understood by considering the ubiquity of the graphical user interface (GUI). “Immediacy is meant to make the computer interface ‘natural’ rather than arbitrary… the desktop metaphor, which has replaced the wholly textual command-line interface, is supposed to assimilate the computer to the physical desktop and to the materials (file folders, sheets of paper, inbox , trash basket, etc.) familiar to office workers. The mouse and pen-based interface allow the user the immediacy of touching, dragging, and manipulating visually attractive ideograms” (Bolter and Grusin, 23). The authors speculate about the emergence of three-dimensional versions of this interface; the Google Art Project fulfills this speculation.  The GAP offers a “museum view” allowing audiences to virtually navigate through the three-dimensional space of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). View“Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh in museum view here. Simply click on the area of the floor where you would like to move to and watch as your view changes to reflect your new location within the virtual space. The point of view presented in this virtual environment is meant to reproduce the view that museum visitors experience when standing in the physical gallery. The interface in this virtual environment strives to be as natural as possible, simply pointing and clicking in the direction you desire to move and selecting icons to view information about the artworks displayed.

The authors contrast immediacy with hypermediacy, saying: “In digital technology, as often in the earlier history of Western representation, hypermediacy expresses itself as mutliplicity.  If the logic of immediacy leads one either to erase or to render automatic the act of representation, the logic of hypermediacy acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible. Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as “windowed” itself — with windows that open on to other representations or other media. The logic of hypermediacy multiplies the signs of mediation and in this way tries to reproduce the rich sensorium of human experience…. Hypermedia makes us aware of the medium or media and… reminds us of our desire for immediacy.” (Bolter and Grusin, 34)

 The Google Art Project: A Virtual Museum

Virtual Museum as Heterotopic Space

When considered as a digital museum, the Google Art Project reveals many of Foucault’s characteristics for a “heterotopia.” The GAP is able to juxtapose in a single virtual space many works of art from across the world which could not otherwise be viewed in one collection, confounding our understanding of space. Museums, both the brick-and-mortar and the virtual versions, accumulate works of art from across the decades (and often centuries), altering our understanding of time. Finally, museums – especially virtual ones – are not accessible to everyone, despite their open appearance and mission to serve the public. Audiences of virtual museums must have access to the technology required to view the artwork, including a computer and high-speed internet access, just as audiences of more traditional museums must have the leisure time to visit the museum. Furthermore, in order to fully participate in the museum, both types of audiences must have some amount of training in how to view the works of art and discuss them.

User-Controlled Exploration of Space

The Google Art Project provides a platform for viewing high-resolution reproductions of famous works of art from around the globe. Viewers are often presented with flattened images of multi-dimensional artworks, for example this mural of Anthony and Cleopatra by Rene Antoine Houasse. Painted in 1860 in the ceiling of the Venus Salon at the Palace of Versailles in France, the GAP image erases the context of the painting and alters the viewers perceptions of space and place. The image as it appears on your computer screen can vary somewhat in size, but it cannot accurately match the nearly 10-foot wide and 7-foot high original painting.

Additionally, viewers can zoom in on sections of interest, In his article, Benjamin uses the medicinal metaphor of a magician and a surgeon to describe change in relationship between the artwork and the audience. “The magician heals a sick person by the laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body. The magician maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself….he greatly increases [this distance] by virtue of his authority. The surgeon does exactly the reverse; he greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body.” Traditional artwork such as ceiling murals at Versailles are the work of the magician, maintaining the distance and authority of the original artwork.  The virtual reproduction of Anthony and Cleopatra allows the viewer to use the zoom tool as a scalpel, mimicking the surgeon and cutting into the artwork.

Finally, the Google Art Project expands the reach of the original artwork by providing a digital reproduction that is accessible to viewers around the world through the internet. In the past, technical reproductions relied on creating large quantities of copies to reach such a large audience, so much that Benjamin suggested that “quantity has been transmuted into quality.” The GAP seems to offer a digital reproduction with the goal of preserving a sense of authenticity rather than destroying it.  As museums agree to grant Google with unique access to reproduce and distribute its artworks as high-res images, it is likely that these images will come to complement – and, in some cases where great geographic distances prohibit an immediate physical experience, stand in for – the original artwork. The GAP offers universal access (substituting quantity) to quality reproductions of revered works of art.

Remediating the Museum

The Google Art Project’s museum view provides an excellent example of the immediacy of new media. The GAP’s museum view also exhibits qualities of hypermediacy. Look again at the museum view of MoMA. Notice that in the new tab that opens, the window is split into several sections. Across the top is a menu with hyperlinks to important pages and information, beneath which is the page header with the title of the artwork, the author’s name, and the date of creation. The main portion of the window is split into three sections: a map of the museum floor plan on the left, an icon toolbar in the center, and a three-dimensional virtual interface on the right. The footer includes yet another menu with hyperlinked information.  This one window displays several types of media: text, hypertext, digital graphics, and 3-D virtual reality. Each medium is represented in a way that reflects our cultural desire for immediacy, encouraging us to interact with the digital environment in a natural way. The hypermediacy of the environment is revealed when we consider the entire window, the sum of these media into a single media object (the window interface). No effort is made to conceal the media, but rather to organize it in a way that is functional and visually appealing; audiences are aware of the media represented within the window.

Under Remediation: Maintaining Continuity of the Museum Mission 

In her CCT thesis project “Mediating the Museum: Investigating Institutional Goals in Physical and Digital Space” (2012), Alicia M. Dillon examines how three major museums have approached the internet as a tool for expanding their missions: The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital and Malraux’s and Crimp’s commentaries on contemporary museums, Dillon asserts that – compared with physical spaces – “the museum website is an equally potent space for communicating a museum’s message” (9). Citing Bolter and Grusin’s theory on remediation, Dillon’s research takes “a close look at both the walls of the museum, the online space, as well as their shared object (the work of art) to highlight the complications of the art museum’s dual architecture in the 21st century” (10). Ultimately, Dillon argues that “understanding the [physical and virtual] spaces as equal but distinct is imperative for art museum’s ability to maximize their public image” (10).

Dillon’s case study of the Hirshhorn Museum lends itself to this analysis of the GAP because the museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution. Although the Hirshhorn has not yet elected to participate in the Google Art Project, several other museums within the Smithsonian have contributed to the project (The American Art Museum, and The Freer and Sackler Galleries). As Dillon points out in her thesis:

“The Hirshhorn is assigned symbolic power through both the Smithsonian Institution as well as its location on the National Mall. This is extended to its online URL through the <.si> extension. Its <.edu> extension signifies the institution’s primarily educational narrative.” (115)

The messages communicated by the architecture of the museum’s virtual space complement the architecture of the museum’s physical space to create seamless brand-continuity. A similar statement could be made about The American Art Museum and The Freer and Sackler Galleries. In future research, it will be important to explore the impact participation in the Google Art Project might have on each museum’s brand. Art objects shared with audiences through the project no longer reside in an <> extension, but rather at a <.com> – owned by one of the world’s largest corporations, no less. Many questions on this topic must be examined, including: What are the implications of this structural shift on the message being communicated? Does the Google Art Project have a mission of its own? If so, how does the project’s mission confirm or complicate the mission of each partnering institution? Does partnering with Google impact the museum’s brand? What does the museum sacrifice by using the Google Art Project rather than creating its own platform to share its art objects with global audiences? What benefits do partnering museums receive? Answering these questions could provide both museums and audiences with more critical perspectives on participation in the GAP.

Making Art Available to All through the Museum Commons 

Dillon understands the virtual space as an extension of the physical museum space, another avenue for accomplishing the mission of the museum. In its simple mission statement, the Smithsonian Institute aims to accomplish “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”  An important step in carrying out this mission is to increase public access to art objects; one strategy for accomplishing this is through a museum commons, a type of virtual museum.

New York Times article “Online, It’s the Mouse That Runs the Museum” (2010), Alex Wright discusses how museums are using new technologies to explore new strategies for building collections, inspiring creativity, and facilitating learning. Wright describes how the National September 11 Museum and Memorial crowdsourced the task of building its collection. In a similar way, The Museum of the History of Polish Jews utilized social media sites such as Youtube, Flickr, and Facebook to obtain content for it’s Virtual Shtetl project.

Wright also points to the idea of a museum commons, citing the Smithsonian Institution as a case study: “That institution recently began an ambitious initiative called the Smithsonian Commons to develop technologies and licensing agreements that would let visitors download, share and remix the museum’s vast collection of public domain assets. Using the new tools, Web users should be able to annotate images, create personalized views of the collection and export fully licensed images for use on their own Web sites or elsewhere.” Unfortunately, I was unable to find a functioning commons site for the Smithsonian; it seems this project is still in development. Wright quotes Michael Edson, the Smithsonian’s New Media Directors, “described the initiative as a step in the institution’s larger mission to shift ‘from an authority-centric broadcast platform to one that recognizes the importance of distributive knowledge creation’.”

In future research, I am interested to compare how the proposed Smithsonian Commons might function similarly to the Google Art Project (which the several of the Smithsonian Museums participate in) – both would allow increased public access to art objects and encourage participatory learning through a user-guided experience. What are the unique qualities of each project and how do they complement or compete with one another? For example, the Smithsonian Commons would make art objects available for use with attribution, encouraging creativity and remix – a feature that is lacking in the current Google Art Project. Google’s advanced platform and global presence encourages the participation of many institutions, increasing the database of art objects available to audiences. Is it important for the Smithsonian to host it’s own platform as part of its brand continuity?  How do these qualities weigh against each other?

Facilitating Learning through the Virtual Museum

The virtual museum can provide more than just increased public access to artworks, it can facilitate learning. In “Exploring Gigapixel Image Environments for Science Communication and Learning in Museums,” (2013) Ahmed Ansari, Illah Nourbakhsh, Marti Louw, and Chris Bartley describe the Stories in the Rock exhibit – a collaborative project between the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh. Stories in the Rock uses zoomable user interfaces (ZUIs) to “offer a spatial way to display and organize large amounts of information in a single interface using scroll, pan, and zoom controls; text, images, graphics, audio, and video can be embedded at spatial locations and zoom levels within an image, creating localized sites for commenting and conversation” (Ansari et al.). The authors identify the challenge addressed by this project: “how to develop intuitive interaction spaces that cater to disparate types of users, giving them deeper agency and choice in how to move through content in ways that are personally relevant and support coherent meaning making.”

The article identifies five “promising affordances” of gigapixel image-based platforms:

1.“Deep looking and noticing in a shared observational space.” The authors cite Nancy Proctor, Digital Editor and Head of Mobile Strategy & Initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution, as she describes in her discussion of the Google Art Project, “the gigapixel scans by which artworks are rendered into digital data streams are enabling intimate encounters with images at visual depths not possible even in the galleries.”

2.“Democratizing a tool of science.” According to Ansari et al “Websites like and invite gigapixel image makers from all over the world to upload their content to be viewed, annotated, geolocated, commented on, and shared globally. This affordance is not utilized by the Google Art Project, preserving the role of museum curators as gatekeepers. Museum professionals maintain the most traditional “curating” role by continuing to select which pieces will be available for public view rather than allowing users to add their own gigapixel images of artworks which they find interesting. While many of the “old masters” are owned by museum and therefore must be included through the museum, many new forms of contemporary art could be considered “open source” – such as graffiti art and street art – and could easily be captured and uploaded by users.

3.”Encouraging participatory learning.” While some could argue that the Google Art Project does encourage audience participation in the creation of knowledge by allowing users to guide their own experience, there is great room for improvement in this category. Ansari et al use the North Carolina State University Insect Museum  as a case study to demonstrate how “museum scientists and users could interact and have conversational exchanges about insect biology.” Currently, the Google Art Project does not allow for users to annotate artworks; adding this feature would facilitate conversations and the collaborative creation of new knowledge.

4.”Offering new visuospatial ways to curate collections and environments.” The authors citeThe Nature Valley Trail View as a case study, “enabling users to virtually explore and walk along trails at the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Yellowstone National Parks… along the way contextual “call outs” provide additional, interactive media overlays for a more dynamic experience.” Google Art Project offers a similar experience through its “museum view” available for many of the participating institutions. The screen capture below shows two “call outs” with information about the sculptures on display and their artists.


First floor of the Musee d’Orsay in Google Art Project’s “Museum View”


5.”Enabling context-dependent annotations and mediation.” Ansari et al cite the website for Canadian design firm Castor as an example of how “embedded information can be revealed depending on user interactions and locations within a three-dimensional space, dynamically tying information to user exploration.” Currently, Google Art Project is not making use of this technology. In order to do so, Google would need to encourage curators to include “call outs” on individual aspects of each work of art which appear as the user zooms in on a particular section of the artwork; this approach would still allow users to guide their own experience and select only information that is of interest to them, while providing some structure to aid the learning environment. Such an approach would “help museum visitors notice details, pick out salient features, and make personal connections to topics of interest” (Ansari et al).

Evaluating the Virtual Museum as a Hypermedia Learning Environment

In Multimedia for Learning: Methods and Development (2001), Stephen Alessi and Stanley Trollip identify several types of hypermedia learning environments (including “the museum”) sharing three essential features:

  1. “A database of information
  2. Multiple methods of navigation, including hyperlinks
  3. Multiple media (e.g., text, audio, video) for presentation of the information” (142)

Focusing on the database of information as the foundation for the hypermedia learning environment, Alessi and Trollip examine several key factors: “media types, size and organization of the database, resolution, modifiability, visible and internal structure, platform independence, and language independence” (150). These factors provide useful tools for examining the Google Art Project’s database of information.

The Google Art Project uses several media types including text, still pictoral images, and zoomable gigapixel images. The project features images of a vast range of art objects; the hypermedia learning environment offers a way for learners to make sense of this large database. The authors argue that “the size of the database is important in that it should impact the design of navigation methods and features to support learning… the more content, the more important it is to provide a variety of flexible navigation features and to provide features to facilitate motivation, memory, comprehension, and other aspects of learning” (152). The Google Art Project database uses several methods of organization, including “collections,” “artists,” “artworks,” and “user galleries.” Using multiple organizational methods “can facilitate a learner’s efficiency and use of the database” (Alessi and Trollip, 152).High-resolution images are a point of pride for the Google Art Project, boasting gigapixel images for many of it’s shared art objects. Currently, the project does not offer users many options for modifiability. The GAP does not allow for users to annotate artworks; adding this feature would facilitate conversations and the collaborative creation of new knowledge. While users can save objects in their own “galleries” (essentially bookmarking artworks that are of particular personal interest) users are unable to add their own text (as the authors note: “the equivalent of marking marginal notes, underlining, and highlighting). It is impossible to evaluate the interaction of visible and internal structures because the internal structures of the project are not made available to the public. Because it is web-based, platform independence is not really an issue for the Google Art Project, though there are several similar issues to be considered: how well does the project perform when viewed in different browsers (Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox) and how does it operation change when viewed through a touch-screen device as opposed to a traditional point-and-click navigation. As far as I can tell, the project does not allow for language independence; it seems that the site is only available in English. In future research, a more extensive evaluation of the virtual museum as a learning environment using Alessi and Trollop’s theories on instructional design could provide additional recommendations for improving the Google Art Project.


The Google Art Project can be considered as a digital museum, extending the physical space of the museum into the virtual space. The museums which participate in this project are taking advantage of Google’s platform to further their individual missions. In the case of the Smithsonian Institute, the GAP allows for the diffusion of artworks across the globe and the increase in knowledge about these art objects through the user-controlled learning environment. In the future, research should be conducted to examine how the remediation of the museum in the virtual space has challenged traditional museum practices within the physical museum space as well as the cultural implications of these challenges.


Alessi, Stephen M., and Stanley R. Trollop. Multimedia for Learning: Methods and Development. 3rd ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001.

Ansari, Ahmed, Illah Nourbakhsh, Marti Louw, and Chris Bartley. “Exploring Gigapixel Image Environments for Science Communication and Learning in Museums.”  Paper presented at the annual conference of Museums and the Web, Portland, Oregon, April 17-20, 2013.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Edited by Hannah Arendt. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Schoken Books, 1969.

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

Crimp, Douglas. “On the Museum’s Ruins.” October 13 (1980): 41-57.

Dillon,Alicia M. “Mediating the Museum: Investigating Institutional Goals in Physical and Digital Space.” MA Thesis; Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University; 2012.

Foucault, Michel. “Texts/Contexts: Of Other Spaces.” In Grasping the World: The Idea of the Museum. Edited by Donald Preziosi and Claire Farago. 371-379. Burlington  VT: Ashgate Pub., 2004. Originally published in Diacritics 16.1 (1986): 22-27.

Malraux, Andre. “Introduction to Museum without Walls.”  In Grasping the World: The Idea of the Museum. Edited by Donald Preziosi and Claire Farago. 368-371. Burlington  VT: Ashgate Pub., 2004. Originally published in Museum Without Walls. translated by Stuart Gilbert and Francis Price. 9-12. New Jersey: Doubleday, 1967.

Patten, Dave. “Web Lab- bridging the divide between the online and in-museum experience.” Paper presented at the annual conference of Museums and the Web, Portland, Oregon, April 17-20, 2013.

Wright, Alex. “Online, It’s the Mouse That Runs the Museum.” New York Times, January 19, 2010. 


This entry was posted in Final Essay on by Arielle Orem.


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