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Art at the click of a mouse

Deng Zhangyu
Updated: Sep 10,2014 12:07 PM     China Daily

Online browsing of sculpture by Chinese contemporary artist Yue Minjun from Today Art Museum.

With a computer and access to the Internet, anyone can appreciate high-resolution images of Chinese artworks and rare Chinese relics without visiting galleries and museums-even from the other side of the planet. It’s a virtual-reality experience of Chinese art museums provided by Google and its six new Chinese art partners.

Google Culture Institute unveiled its six Chinese partners on Sept 4 in Beijing, posting online 48 collections of Chinese art with more than 1,400 artworks, one of the biggest online exhibits in Asia since the institute’s launch in 2011.

These online exhibits include works ranging from Chinese relics dated back 3,000 years to traditional Chinese paintings of master painters and to contemporary art by top Chinese artists like Xu Bing and Fang Lijun.

The six Chinese institutions joining Google include Sanxindui Museum in Shanxi, Art Museum of China Academy of Art, Today Art Museum, the archival Chinese Modern Contemporary Art Document, Pokfulam Village Cultural Landscape Conservation Group in Hong Kong and the Opium War Museum in Dongguan, bringing the Internet giant’s total of Chinese art partners to nine.

Mask with gold foil from Sanxindui Museum.

The inside of the Sanxindui Museum when viewed online.

Launched in 2011, the culture institute includes the Google Art Project, featuring online exhibits from museums across the globe, the World Wonders Project and archive exhibitions.

According to institute director Amit Sood, Google has partnered with more than 500 museums in over 60 countries. The yearly number of Web visitors has reached 19 million, with the number of visitors from China ranking fourth while the United States generates the most clicks.

With the large-scale exhibits from China going online, the number of artworks from Asia now nearly equals that from European countries and the US combined.

Sood says the institute has been eager to include Chinese art since 2011, adding that the current nine parters are just a start and Google welcomes more players in the future.

Google’s online art platform is gaining popularity among Chinese art museums and galleries, as museum directors consider digitalization as the future trend of museums.

“The younger generation has no interest in spending several hours visiting museums and galleries. They go to the museum only if they are charmed by artworks they see online or via apps,” says Gao Peng, director of Today Art Museum.

Known for Chinese contemporary art, Gao’s museum has offered 17 exhibitions for the Google Art Project. Most are big names in the Chinese contemporary art world; Xu Bing’s installation Phoenix, for example, can be seen up-close in high-resolution images.

Gao said Google provides technology and the online platform free, and the museum finishes the work of data collection and image-taking. All the artworks are uploaded with the authorization of their owners as well as the artists.

Today Art Museum spends near 1 million yuan ($162,946) on curation every year. With the digitalization, Gao says, it wants to cultivate online curators in the future.

As the only museum from an art college, the Art Museum of China Academy of Art put online three exhibitions. One is a collected show that includes works of Pan Tianshou, Lin Fengmian and Li Keran, outstanding master painters of traditional Chinese painting and modern art.

Users can zoom in and out the paintings by master Painter Pan Tianshou to see the details.

Xia Shangzhou, media specialist at the museum, said the academy will put its graduates’ works online via Google’s platform, a good way for their students to present their works to audiences across the world at a low cost.

For Chinese relics of great treasures that have not been allowed to be shipped and shown outside China, digitalization offers vital exposure to a world audiences. For example, the bronze standing statue and a bronze mask from Sanxindui Museum are on international show online for the first time, with a 3-D view. Global users can tour the museum online as if they were physically strolling there. It’s only a matter of clicking a mouse to see more than 100 cultural relics.

Although people across the world have access to this large-scale feast of Chinese art, Chinese users will struggle to have stable access to Google. The Google Culture Institute’s Sood says it is committed to showing Chinese art to the world.

“Our aim is to give more people access to cultural riches. We encourage more partners to engage with a world audience, “ he says.