Friday, March 21, 2014

Virtual Museum Tours!

Google is teaming up with various art museums to create the Google Art Project/Google Cultural Institute. The effort also includes "world wonders" -- world heritage sites of the modern and ancient world. Google comes in with the same technology used to produce Google Streetview, mounted, not on a car, but on a trolley. This came to my attention when the Boston Globe ran a story about one of our local museums, the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum mounting the first-in-New-England virtual tour of their collection. Boston calls itself the Hub (which means Hub of the Universe), and we in New England know that First in New England means first of importance from the Boston point of view...

That said, there are a few other notable museums and sites that are also in the Google Art Project/Cultural Institute, so you will enjoy visiting the site for more than just the charming collection of the Gardner Museum. Isabella Stewart Gardner was a rebel socialite at the turn of the 20th century in Boston, so you can imagine that she was a strong personality. She was much talked about in her own lifetime and continues to be a big figure in Boston lore. She was also a friend of major artists and intellectuals and a major art collector and patron. Her will lays out a remarkable number of rules for continuing her home and collection as a museum, including maintaining the house and collection as she owned it, and free admission to anybody named Isabella. It really is a fun museum because it's in a charming house, with a sunlit, roofed conservatory garden, and a distinctive collection.

More entertainingly still, two days after the Globe article on the Gardner virtual tour appeared, the retired curator of the fabulous Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), wrote a letter to the Globe. The Museum of Bad Art really is a hoot. I have visited and it's fun and very interesting. Many of the works are so bad that they run around the circle of taste into good. MOBA is housed in two places: the basement of Dedham Community Theater and the basement of Sommerville Movie Theater in Davis Square (the branch I visited). The letter so far only appears in the print version, which makes me sad. I reproduce it here:
Gardner museum follows in footsteps of the greats
Upon Reading the headline "Gardner 1st museum in N.E. to offer virtual walk-through" in Wednesday's Globe, I spit my morning coffee all over the front page.

As any student of art histroy should know, the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) pioneered the concept of a virtual art gallery nearly 20 years ago with The Virtual Museum of Bad Art CD-ROM. We're certain that our colleagues at the Gardner Museum would be the first to admit that their impressive new virtual museum owes a debt tot he technological trailblazing of MOBA so many years ago.

In the time of Windows 3.1, floppy disks, and AOL dial-up Internet, the MOBA Virtual Museum not only captured the entire MOBA art collec tion but took you behind the scenes to the offices, the gift shop, the rest rooms, and all the other essential facilities of a modern art museum.

Despite its primitive 1995 technology, the Virtual Museum of Bad Art has withstood the test of time. Even today, by anyone's standards MOBA's Virtual Museum is still clearly very bad.

In the words of one reviewer in 1995 -- "a complete waste of plastic." Jerry Reilly Newton.
Somehow I doubt that we'll see the MOBA in Google's project any time soon. So, if you are ever in Boston, try to make time for a visit. It makes a nice evening out together with a movie!

The image is of Isabella Stewart Gardner, a portrait by Zorn Alexander painted in 1894 in Venice, from the Gardner collection. I chose it over the more staid portrait by the better-known John Singer Sargent because I think it better illustrates the zest Mrs. Jack brought to life, and why she shook Boston up.

No comments: