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Why Google Can Never Replace A Guggenheim

The Google Art Project, according to Florentine art curator Francesco Bonami, will never match wandering through a museum.

A digital dissection of a Vermeer classic (flickr)

One might be tempted to think that nobody will ever set foot in a museum again after Google unveiled its upcoming art project, which will make high-definition, digitized masterpieces from the world's top museums just a click away.

But think back to the VCR era when people started watching films at home. It was feared that people would stop going to the cinema. Did they? No. Will people stop visiting museums? Of course not!

That's how Nelson Mattos, a vice president of engineering at Google, sees it. "I first set foot in a famous museum when I was studying abroad. I can still recall the emotion I felt as I wandered about."

And there's the nub of the matter. Viewing artwork on a computer will never substitute the pleasure of roaming around a gallery. In the same way that sitting in a dark room and sharing with others the emotions of the silver screen can never quite be matched by a VHS, DVD or movie downloaded on your computer. No acoustic system, no matter how sophisticated, will prompt the same emotions as listening to live opera in a theater.

In the same vein, however big the plasma TV, there's nothing like being in the stadium supporting your favorite football team, or in the stands at Wimbledon during a final between Federer and Nadal.

Technology is fantastic, and it certainly changes the way we see reality. Yet, it cannot change the way in which reality moves us. Emotion is also a matter of scale. We might admire the most amazing pictures of the Grand Canyon or the Matterhorn, but once you're there, the sheer majesty of these landscapes will stir unique emotions. The Google Art Project might enable us to observe any brush stroke, crack or line of a famous painting, but standing in front of it is a different story.

Standing in front of Paolo Veronese's "The Feast in the House of Levi", one of the largest canvases painted in 16th century, is quite a different experience from looking at it on a computer screen, even though digitally we might see things that would escape the naked eye.

The same goes for smaller works such as Vermeer's. One can only savor the intimacy of these works by standing in front of them. Often, it's not the details of a work that the painter wants to transmit. An artist, however famous or unknown, typically wants to convey an emotion, share a thought, in the most immediate way possible. It is the novel as a whole that we fall in love with, not the individual words in the text, even though a linguist might study those words individually. Equally, with a painting, it's not a single brush stroke but the combination of all brush strokes that makes it powerful, touching, beautiful or ugly.

Google might enable us get underneath the colors of a painting, make us see the tiniest crack, make us feel like the shrunk-down characters in that movie about people traveling through the human body. But just like those characters cannot explore the thoughts and ideas of the person inside whose body they are traveling, we will never, through a digital museum experience, experience the same feeling as when we are wandering around a museum for real.

Google can never reproduce the feeling of finding ourselves in front of a masterpiece we thought we knew through countless reproductions only to discover it's something completely different, more profound and unique. Or even to discover that we are disappointed, expecting that something extra that technology, with its overzealousness, had revealed, which in the mind of the artist should have remained hidden.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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