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News / March 26, 2013

Canada’s Presence Expands on Google Art Project

Canada’s presence has expanded on the Google Art Project with additions this week from the Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa and the Pointe-à-Caillère Museum in Montreal.

New uploads are also due soon from the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, which will feature an online project by Jon Rafman.

Art Bank contribution surveys 40 years of Canadian art

The Art Bank addition comprises 41 artworks by 36 artists. These include Joyce Wieland’s Maple Leaf Forever II (1972), a quilt showing a feminine mouth stating the titular phrase;  Fastwürms’ Chew or Die (1987), a tea towel printed with the image of a beaver; General Idea’s Armoury of the Miss General Idea Pavilion (1988–91), a series of badges by the famed artist collective; Timootie Pitsiulak’s Loadmaster (2007), a large-scale drawing of a garbage truck; and Alain Paiement’s Arrangement According to Nature (Madame) (2010), an overhead view of the entire floor of a home.

The Google Art Project page gives longevity and a wider audience to a three-day 40th-anniversary exhibition the Art Bank held in September 2012. The show and its associated website featured one work from the Art Bank for each year of its existence—from 1972 to 2012.

“I think the most important thing [related to this project] is we’re looking to expand our audience,” said Victoria Henry, director at the Canada Council Art Bank. (According to Google, 15 million users visited the Google Art Project last year.) “It’s really important that the works in the collection are seen by as many people as possible.”

The Art Bank holds the nation’s biggest contemporary Canadian art collection at roughly 17,000 works—larger, it says, than even the National Gallery of Canada’s.

The thousands of artworks were winnowed down to 40 to “show the progression in Canadian art during our history,” Henry says. “We started out with a number of feminist works; along the way we saw a rise in works by aboriginal artists and in the later years certainly much more photography.”

Henry initiated the project with a visit to Google Art Project’s London offices in September 2012. She says the project unfolded rather quickly except for one snag.

“The biggest challenge for us was ensuring we had appropriate photography, because most of the resolutions we have in our database are not of the standard that most people are using now,” she said.

The Pointe-à-Caillère Museum, which specializes in archaeology, has uploaded images of 50 artifacts and artworks, including George Munro Grant’s 1880 etching of the old port of Montreal, a series of beer bottlecaps devoted to pavilions of Expo 67; and a 20th-century table jukebox.

Art Gallery of Ontario to expand offerings with Jon Rafman

The additions of the past week bring the number of Canadian institutions on the Google Art Project to a total of five.

The first Canadian institution to join the Google Art Project was the Art Gallery of Ontario, which joined in April 2012 (15 months after the initial launch of the project in February 2011) with 43 works by 38 artists. The AGO will soon be adding another 49 works by 10 artists, including Emily Carr and Tom Thomson.

Canadian artist Jon Rafman, internationally known for his series of unusual images culled from Google Street View, has also created a new series that will soon be featured on the AGO’s Google Art Project page. To create Brand New Paint Job, Rafman appropriated works from the AGO’s online collection and then cropped, repeated, stretched and modified the images before digitally projecting them onto contemporary surfaces.

(Advance images from Rafman’s project can be viewed by clicking on the “Photos” icon at the top of this post.)

Unconventional, beyond-the-white-cube art also featured

In October 2012, two more Canadian institutions joined the Google Art Project: the National Ballet of Canada, which is featuring images of some of its more unconventional tutus and costumes, and Mouvement Essarts, an outdoor sculpture garden in Quebec which is showing photos of many of the large-scale installation works made on its woodland site.

Google spokesperson Wendy Bairos says that while the ballet and outdoor-installation pics may not be from conventional galleries or museums, they are of interest to the company’s project.

“It’s really about bringing art and different forms of art to people in order to hopefully increase knowledge and interest about different art types,” Bairos said. “It could be ceramics, it could be furniture; this year from Brazil, we also included street art. Art can take many forms.”

The Google Art Project features art from more than 200 institutions across 40 countries, showing more than 30,000 works in total. Other institutions involved include the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Uffuzi in Florence and the National Gallery in London.

Bairos said that if other Canadian institutions are interested in participating in the project, they should complete the project’s sign-up page, which is sent to the Google Cultural Institute in London. Representatives of Canadian institutions are also welcome to try connecting with relevant staff if they are in London.

Henry said that next, if time allows, she’d like to do a Google Art Project exhibition about culturally diverse artists in Canada.

This article was corrected on March 27, 2013. The original copy implied that Rafman’s Brand New Paint Job was specially commissioned by the AGO.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via