New Zealand and Australian art galleries and museums have participated enthusiastically in the Google Art Project (GAP), which opens significant artworks to the view of the public worldwide.
But the exercise has not been without problems, including, in New Zealand, a shortage of bandwidth to deal with upload of high-resolution images running to many gigabytes.
The National Digital Forum, held in Wellington recently, secured GAP director Piotr Adamczyk as a keynote speaker and involved him in a discussion with representatives of the Auckland Art Gallery, Te Papa and Melbourne's Museum Victoria.
Many of the snags experienced by Auckland Art Gallery arose from network restrictions imposed by the gallery's owner, Auckland Council, for security purposes, says online coordinator Amy Cooper. The Council's browser support was limited to Microsoft IE8 or Firefox version 4, whereas the Google Art Project (GAP) software, naturally, is designed to work with Chrome or with the ChromeFrame plugin for other browsers.
Filling in the gallery's profile was a laborious job, says Cooper. Metadata hit restrictions, both on the length of an artwork's name and the management of the inevitable macrons. "We really appreciated the lengths to which Google went to help ensure our data was shipshape," Cooper says.
Chrome or the ChromeFrame plugin is required "to let us lock down images and keep them from being scraped [digitally copied]," says Adamczyk. "Use of the material has to be protected."
Some edits and formatting of the Auckland gallery's data were undone automatically and some artwork images took up to three attempts to upload. Part of the problem lay with the Council-run firewall preventing full access to Google's upload tool, but uploading from another site hit bandwidth problems.
"It is worth bearing in mind that New Zealand still lags behind much of the world in broadband speed," Cooper says.
In his keynote, Adamczyk showed gallery walkthroughs with some works blurred out where appropriate rights could not be secured.
Google is not aiming for completeness as with StreetView, Adamczyk says; it is entirely the institution's choice what works it displays through GAP.
On the copyright side, Google is trying to evolve a standard contract with galleries, he says. This is a necessity for further expansion, but runs up against legal distinctions. "Copyright cleared" means different things in different countries.
Te Papa's Adrian Kingston says his team experienced difficulties of communication, both with Google and with other local institutions, at the stage when the project was still under wraps and bound by non-disclosure agreements.
The Te Papa team had an inadequate understanding of the way the works were going to be displayed and the degree of visibility they would have as a small sample in a large international pool. Given fuller information "we might have chosen different works," Kingston says.