Shane Ferro
Art market news and commentary by the staff of Art+Auction

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Art History on the Web: What Do You Get Out of a Close-up of “Starry Night” in 2D?

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Fellow ARTINFO blogger Judith Dobrzynski led me to a new(ish) Web site called WikiPaintings, which is attempting to do many of the same things that the Google Art Project is in terms of bringing art history onto the Web — an ambitious, complicated, but important goal, for sure. Browsing through the two sites reminded me of the question I have been tackling lately on ARTINFO: if and when the art world will move online in a more interactive, Web 2.0 way.

There are a lot of ways in which WikiPaintings is different from Google Art Project. First, it appears to be an open, collaborative project. It is certainly open about its (barely-there) financials. It’s also based in Ukraine, which is interesting, if not terribly important, to note. But it has promise as a encyclopedia-like site that, as a non-profit with a purely educational purpose, isn’t shackled by the legal/financial issues that I’m sure keep many great works from ever making their way onto Google’s site. But for the moment, they are both sites looking to bring great art online for free.

It is interesting to think that I can sit at my desk and explore Monet’s waterlilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris this close up:

Or, even more interesting, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” this close:

But when you get down to it, I don’t know that I ever will use this. It’s great to be able to really discern the texture up close in this super-high-res image, but at the end of the day it still falls, well, flat. The point of going to the Musée de l’Orangerie is to see the light hit Monet’s masterpieces the way the artist intended. There is something about the space that you can never evoke online.

I wrote that above paragraph, and then I spent quite a bit of time searching through Australian rock art. Just like an online site is never quite going to replace the art dealer, Google Art Project or WikiPaintings will never replace the museum. But is possibly the next best thing to art-related travel without leaving your home. Go forth and check out cool art at weird museums in places you have never been!

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