Google's Art & Culture App

On hearing the theme of the Met's summer fashion exhibition, Rei Kawakubo / Commes des Garçon: Art of the In-Between, I straight away started researching flights and hotels in Manhattan for a few days in order to visit it. Ultimately, I am not in the position to spend at least £500 to visit this exhibit, as much as I was trying to convince myself that I could - and live on basic's baked beans for the foreseeable future!

However, my desire to explore Art of the In-Between has just been fulfilled through Google's Art & Culture App! This app provides an interactive and in-depth virtual experience of going through the exhibition, complete with text panels, images of the installations and video clips. As a Fashion & Dress History soon-to-be graduate, I am all too aware that physically visiting an exhibition is pivotal in the learning, understanding and absorbing of an exhibition. The actual experience of seeing garments, experiencing the atmosphere and loosing oneself in the museum experience is irreplaceable. Museums are places of escapism, of enlightenment and to immerse oneself into a liminal space. There will always be a need, if not necessity, for the museum.

However, sometimes it is logistically impossible to visit all the exhibitions that you desire. In this way, the Google Art & Culture app enabled those interested in enhancing their cultural knowledge and appreciation for the arts, without economic, distance or time constraints. I was surprised to see just how thorough the descriptions and images were. It follows the exhibition through all the rooms and sections, with in-depth descriptions and explanations and incredible images of each room / installation. 

The app has 16 other exhibitions from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, including a fascinating section going 'Behind the Scenes' at the Costume Institute Conservation Lab, a space that many people have only imagined it to look like.

Aside from the Met, Google Art & Culture app also give it's user virtual access to many other incredible  galleries and museums. Currently on the app's homepage there is a link to the article,  'Explore Stylist Locations Around the World in Street View', which includes the Palace of Versailles, ModeMuseum Province Antwerpen, Museo Frida Kahlo and Parsons School of Design amongst many others. This means you can take in culture and creativity from across the world from the comfort of your own country. In fact, there are 2888 museums / galleries available via Street View on the app!

According to reports by the Business of Fashion, the aim was “to bring 3,000 years of fashion to the Google Arts & Culture platform...The initiative is based on the premise that fashion is culture, not just clothes. Led by Kate Lauterbach — a Google program manager who began her career at Condé Nast in New York and later worked for J.Crew’s Madewell — it aims to digitise and display thousands of garments from around the world, stage curated online exhibitions, invite non-profit partners like museums and schools to script and share their own fashion stories, and leverage technologies like Google Street View to offer immersive experiences like virtual walkthroughs of museum collections.'[1]

Google have been digitising the art world since 2010, when an engineer named Amit Sood kickstarted the Google Art Project, which enabled users to virtually walk through art galleries and museums across the world, making cultural artefacts accessible in extraordinary detail to millions of internet users. The project has since grown into the Google Cultural Institute, which is non-profit and housed in a grand hôtel particulier in  Paris. The Google Cultural Institute has partnered with over 1,300 museums, showcasing a range of different artefacts and art pieces to users worldwide.  

However, their current the main focus seems to be on fashion, more specifically fashion's relationship with art is new. With featured content such as 'The True Cost of Fashion' and the aforementioned 'Art of the In-Between' exhibition, this focus is incredibly interesting for me, as I am currently in a limbo-like state, somewhere lost between awaiting my undergrad results and staring at an incomplete Master's application. Yesterday, the 8th of June, marked the last day I was able to take books out of the library until I (hopefully) enrol onto my preferred Master's course, which leaves about 3 l-o-n-g months that I would be intellectually limited. Although I am able to use 'desk reference' books at my university library, with the help of the Art & Culture app I will be able to soak in fashion and art history from the comfort of my new flat. 

Although this seems very much like a sponsored article, due to my apparent love of the app, I genuinely just find it amazing! I only just discovered it this morning and I have already given myself a migraine from just browsing the different exhibitions and museums that it has to offer (true story - my vision has only just come back, and I'm sure staring at this screen is likely to make it resurface!). A large part of my degree was debating where fashion is art. Lauterbach said to BoF "We wanted to show that fashion is much deeper than just what you wear; that there’s a story behind it, there’s people behind it, there’s influences that come from art, that come from music, that come from culture more broadly; and, in turn, what we wear influences culture. We really wanted to put fashion on a par with art and artists." Which is definitely something worth considering, and may even pose as a research topic for further work. 

The Google Art & Culture app is free to download, and I would say it is an absolute must have for anyone interested in fashion, art, design or craft, both the history of and contemporary examples.

You can download it on iTunes here or on Google Play for Android here

[1] Vikram Alexei Kansara, 'Why is Google digitising the worlds of fashion archives?', Business of Fashion, 8 June 2017. 

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