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Is a Museum a Database?: Institutional Conditions in Net Utopia


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In Art Project 2023, João Enxuto and Erica Love imagine the future of the Google Art Project, the search giant’s effort to reproduce images from the world’s top museums as it develops over the next decade. The multimedia performance documents the slow erosion of the museum under the logic of corporate interests and the breathless adoption of digital innovation by none other than Google, whose stated goal is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google purchases the Whitney Museum’s Breuer building and repurposes it as an “immersive” and “interactive” physical interface for the Art Project, where patrons have access to high-resolution images of the original works of art. Each room is curated based on algorithms that crawl the user’s profile to predict optimal artworks. Art history PhDs leave the academy to work as handsomely paid human docents, guiding users who log in with Google Plus accounts. Tech luminaries hail the initiative as a “democratic platform that erases the territorial boundaries and spatial limitations that hampered the circulation of the world’s greatest artworks.”

In a short time the Breuer building is deemed “too expensive” to maintain and is replaced with a 3D–printed replica, assembled by a Google subsidiary. Slight aberrations in digital files begin to appear, causing equal parts panic and spectacle. Eventually a slew of works begin to disappear from Google’s backup servers. Within months, they are all gone.

Enxuto and Love close their dystopian scene with a fictional article from the 2023 issue of Artforum, entitled “On the Future of the Museum.” The piece quotes Marcel Breuer’s comments at the presentation of his new Whitney Museum building in 1963: “It is easier to say what [the museum] should not look like. It should not look like a business or office building, nor should it look like a place of light entertainment.”

[figure partialpage 2014_12_artandlanguagesmallWEB.jpg
Art and Language, Index 01, 1972.]

Read the full article here.