In a narrow road in Paris, hidden behind a gate with bars painted the colour of the Google rainbow is the French HQ of the world’s favourite search engine. And it’s here that a secret left by Marc Chagall in the ceiling of the Opera Garnier in Paris was discovered.
Amongst the hundreds working at Google in Paris are a select few: 20 passionate, dedicated innovators who make up the Google Art Laboratory, the like of which exists nowhere else in the world.
The Google Cultural Institute
Here in Paris they’ve been revolutionising how the world sees art, literally. This creative little team has developed high tech cameras, new technology and software that allows museums and art galleries everywhere to record the most incredible photos of artworks and share them with the world. You may never get to see some of it in person but that doesn’t mean you can’t see it at all.
It started with an idea to make the greatest artworks of the world accessible to all, and, as they say at the Google Cultural Institute: “put the world’s cultural heritage in the hands of the world”.
The team started with one of the greats – the palace of Versailles, photographing the treasures and putting the digital art online for all to enjoy. They’ve also captured the Castles of the Loire on camera with a video that gives you the feeling you’re flying over these beautiful buildings and getting a bird’s eye view. By 2016 more than 1200 museums in 70 countries signed up to work with the Google Cultural Institute. The Paris team have invented more software as they’ve gone along, improving the viewer experience, and the clarity that their prototype cameras afford is quite extraordinary. The team used it to capture the beauty of the Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera House. The ceiling painted by Marc Chagall is one of the wonders of Paris and countless thousands have stood looking in awe at the incredible colours and images.
Experiencing it up close as the Google art project allows, means you can see the stunning detail in a quite unique way, you feel as if you’ve floated up to the ceiling to see the detail in all its glory – with a magnifying glass. When the team invited Marc Chagall’s son to come and see the images, he revealed that his father had told him that he had painted him as a baby, but he had never been able to see the image despite looking for many years. The Google team zoomed in on the photos and incredibly, their images are so fine, so perfect, that they could maximise every aspect without losing clarity and, after more than 50 years the image was revealed, a tiny baby, the son of Chagall (above left) an emotional moment for the grown-up son.
Marc Chagall once said that “the dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world” echoing the ethos of what the Google Art Institute has achieved.
Not content with just photographing and videoing existing artwork, the team have been experimenting to help artists create new artworks. One of their amazing inventions is known as Tilt Brush, a brand new immersive art form composed of light. It’s been called “Microsoft Paint for the year 2020”, a piece of sci-fi equipment that as Google put it, enables users to “Paint life-size three-dimensional brush strokes, stars, light, and even fire”. Tilt Brush is an incredible light art medium that is fantastically futuristic, discover more about how to use it: www.tiltbrush.com
The latest of this team’s digital masterpieces is a 360 degree video camera that is being used to capture a fresh view of Paris. As one of the team put it “when you live in a city, you can take it for granted, we want to present it via fresh eyes”. Working with urban explorer and photographer David Rueda they are doing just that, capturing aspects of the city you may not know, the Paris of Parisians. Watch it via Google cardboard, which coincidentally was invented here, and prepare for a mind blowing experience. Basically a cardboard box with lenses that you can pop your mobile phone into and watch video which appears in incredible 3D form, a strange virtual reality experience that is mind boggling. (You can buy Google cardboard on line or make it yourself, they’ve made the plans free for all).
Google art institute isn’t open to the public but the cultural treasures of the world are, and how we view art, define art, use art is changing, thanks to this dedicated team of innovative inventors.
Find out more about the incredible work of Google Arts and Culture