Google adds Graffiti to its art portfolio

PARIS – There’s a portrait of an anonymous Chinese carved into a wall in Shanghai, a colorful mural in Atlanta, and black-and-white photographs of eyes that French artist JR has affixed to houses in a favela. hillside in Rio de Janeiro. These are among the images of more than 4,000 works included in a sprawling new online street art gallery that Google unveils here on Tuesday.

Called the Street Art Project, the database was created by the company’s Paris-based Google Cultural Institute. Using images provided by cultural organizations around the world, some of which were captured with Google’s Street View camera technology, it features street art from around the world, including works that no longer exist, like the 5Pointz murals in Long Island City, Queens, or the walls of the Tour Paris 13 in France.

With this initiative, Google is the latest organization to embark on debates over how or whether to institutionalize, let alone commercialize, ephemeral and often purposefully created art in a subversive way. A private database of public art, she also asks questions about how to legally preserve what, in some cases, could be considered vandalism.

In a sense, Google is formalizing what street art fans around the world are already doing: taking pictures of city walls and posting them on social media. Still, there may be concern that Google is doing so, given criticism of its aggressive surveillance tactics, especially in Europe, where its Street View satellite mapping is widely viewed as a privacy breach.

Google tries to avoid the offense by setting strict conditions. It will only include images provided by organizations that sign a contract certifying that they own the rights to it. It will not remove Street View images, but will provide the technology to organizations that wish to use it to legally register street art. Some groups provided the exact locations of the works of art; others don’t.

In a bid to avoid one of the most controversial debates in the street art world, Google has said it will not include images of groups seeking to sell the art or images thereof. Many street artists oppose their public work being sold without their permission. For example, Banksy, the anonymous British street artist, opposed attempts to sell his works after they were removed from public walls, saying the stencils belonged to the community.

Google also said it would remove the images if the artists complained to the groups who contributed them to the database.

The company sees the platform as a way to make more art available to viewers. “I don’t treat street art as anything different from what I would do with the Impressionist collection that I get on Art Project,” said Amit Sood, director of the Google Cultural Institute, referring to a philanthropic initiative who provided technical support. to over 460 museums to help them get their collections online.

The institute, which was founded in 2011 and has around 30 engineers, has also helped create an online archive for historical figures like Nelson Mandela and used Street View to provide multimedia renderings of World Heritage sites in Unesco like Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Mr Sood acknowledges that the street art program, like the Cultural Institute, is a way for Google to generate goodwill in a privacy-conscious Europe. “It helps people realize that we are doing a lot of things that really support the community,” he said.

The database is searchable by artist, city, genre and other categories, and even includes a special section on New York City walls from the 1990s. Among the 30 institutions that have provided images so far include the Museum of new York City ; the Dallas Contemporary exhibition space in Texas; Living Walls: The City Speaks in Atlanta, which funds street art and distributes it online; and the Museum of Street Arts in France.

In collaboration with the French organization Project Tour Paris 13, Google filmed the rooms of Tour 13 in Paris, which had been completely covered in street art, before its owners destroyed the building. Google also used a powerful camera to capture the works of Portuguese graffiti artist Vhils, who uses an electric chisel to engrave images on the sides of buildings. Viewers can zoom in on the chisel marks.

Shepard Fairey, who is best known for his image of President Obama, said he had “no problem” being included in the database. “I have always used my street art to democratize art, so it would be philosophically inconsistent of me to protest against the democratization of art via Google,” he said via a publicist. And the Belgian artist known as ROA said he would be happy to be a part of it, “as long as they credit me for the mural and it’s not used for commercial purposes or for companies “.

Some past attempts to institutionalize street art have not gone so well. The Los Angeles Police Commissioner criticized a 2011 exhibit titled “Art in the Streets” at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, arguing that it encouraged vandalism.

Philippe Vergne, who took charge of the Los Angeles museum in January, admitted: “Street art often comes with a bad reputation where people don’t know how to distinguish art from vandalism. Lois Stavsky, who runs the non-profit Street Art NYC group, said most street artists like the idea of ​​allowing more people to see their work. She said she sorted through thousands of photos taken by her group at 5Pointz over the years and painstakingly uploaded hundreds to the Google platform. The owners of the building repainted the art last fall and plan to demolish it to make way for luxury condos.

“The fact that 5Pointz was whitewashed, it was covered in white paint, proves how important it is to document this,” she said.

The Google Street Art platform will be presented at a press conference at the Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art space partly owned by the City of Paris, which is opening an exhibition on Saturday entitled “The Lasco Project”, a play on words making reference to prehistoric art painted in the Lascaux caves. Street artists were invited to create works on the walls of the museum’s basement.

One recent afternoon, New York street artist Futura wore yellow rubber gloves as he painted black dots on a striped wall for the Paris exhibition.

The artist, 58, said he liked the idea of ​​Google’s Street Art Project, given that he and other artists are learning about each other’s work online anyway. “The Instagram accounts – most of the artists are there,” he said.