There is a baby in diapers looking for his mother on a wall in Sao Paulo, “No More Hunger” is written on a building in Atlanta, and a larger-than-life portrait of French physician, Philippe Pinel is depicted in Paris.
Paris-based Google Cultural Institute’s has collaborated with cultural institutions, museums and street art enthusiasts to host the online Street Art Project. The digital platform captures street art from artists and locations around the globe before it permanently disappears. Its vast collection currently features a database of more than 4,000 works of art, categorized by artist, location, style and genre. Google’s street art map is populated with curated images chosen by 30 collaborating cultural organizations spanning 15 countries.
Among the institutions that have provided images, thus far, are the Street Art Museum in Italy, Centro de Arté Contemporáneo Málaga, Museo a Cielo Abierto in Chile, and Palais de Tokyo in Paris to name a few.
Visitors have the option of looking at the curated work in high-definition “street view” or “museum view,” and can “zoom” to hone in on a section of a particular work. To learn even more about a particular artist, Google offers audio so exhibiting artists can share their stories with viewers.
Besides documenting current images, the Street Art Project also presents data that discloses which work of art has been closed to the public or no longer exists such as the walls of Tour Paris 13 tower in France. It also gives a brief description of the city’s project to provide a more comprehensive experience for the viewer.
Google is the latest to step into disputes regarding how or whether to license and regulate street artists as seen in New York City and San Francisco. Having a database of public art, also presented queries about how to lawfully safeguard what is in some cases believed to be defacement or vandalism.
Additionally, Google is striving to avoid another controversial issue in the street art world. However, the platform will not contain images from people looking to sell their artwork. Many street artists oppose their public work being marketed without permission, maintaining that any street art belongs to the community. Graffiti and street artists like Roa from Ghent, Belgium, have said that they would be pleased to be a part of the project, “as long as they credit the mural to me, and it’s not being used for commercial purposes or corporations.
Fundamentally, the Google platform is endorsing what street art supporters already do on a global level: snap photos of city walls and circulate them on social media. However, the new project also raised the question of discretion, which is a valid concern since its Street View satellite mapping has been regarded as an intrusion of privacy.
To avert any wrongdoings, Google is carefully setting stringent guidelines on the project. It does not own the copyright to any of the images, and will only include images furnished by organizations that sign an agreement verifying that they retain the rights. It will not reject street-view images, but will only make the technology available to organizations that wish to use the tool, in order to document street art legally. Some organizations have given exact locations of the uploaded art while others have not.
Conversely, should an artist find their work exhibited in the gallery, but not wish it to be online, they can request its removal. Google has said that it would remove any images if artists complained to the groups that have contributed them to the database.
On the new Google platform, visitors can see collections from countries like France, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia and Portugal to name a few. For example, the “graffitimundo” collection in Buenos Aries, Argentina currently displays 77 artists and 315 images with two different views – exhibit and museum. Whereas 5Pointz NYC in Queens, New York, once considered “graffiti mecca” and “home” to thousands of artists across the globe, is no longer physically on view. The walls of the 200,000-square-foot factory served as an open-air aerosol museum, but the building owners whitewashed it in November 2013 to make way for luxury condominiums.
The new Google Art Project, according to independent curator, Lois Stavsky of Street Art NYC, “makes street art and graffiti accessible to many folks who might otherwise dismiss it – without knowing anything about it.”
The platform transfers uploaded images to its massive Google+ community, comprised of approximately 8.5 million followers that use street art hashtags such as #GraffitiArt. Users can also build their own digital exhibitions on the site’s “User Galleries,” which enables users to choose their favorite images and produce a visual “playlist” that they can then share across social media.
The new digital library aims to provide greater access to temporary works of art that could vanish at any time. It utilizes the Street View technology to inspire street art experts like Stavsky to display the art they find most captivating to online audiences. Google sees the platform as a means of generating more art available to viewers.
Google Cultural Institute Director Amit Sood said that the Street Art Project went beyond having a straightforward website and uploading some content. He stated that it is an “immersive experience.” The Street Art project features “zooming technology on assets and objects” that online users have not previously come across before. He added, “We’re talking about digital exhibitions created by curators for the very first time.”
By Dawn Levesque