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The Flaws in Iconic Paintings Get Exposed in ‘Google Art on Canvas’

Italian media artist Luca Leggero cropped and enlarged well-known paintings from the Google Art archive. Now he’s put them all in a new book.
April 3, 2016, 1:00pm
Google Art on Canvas (De slaapkamer by Vincent van Gogh), 2015, 50×50 cm, inkjet on canvas. All images courtesy the artist

When Google released its virtual collection of artworks, Google Art Project, Italian media artist and musician Luca Leggero went online to peruse the archive. Immediately struck by the potential of having access to such close details of the world’s great artworks, he also realized that Google was shaping a new way of looking at old artworks, supporting what Leggero calls a sort of “fetishism for hi-resolution images.” Wanting to merge his interests in art history and the web, along with the information overload produced and managed by Google, Leggero decided to create abstract images from the database’s figurative paintings, which he called Google Art on Canvas.


Leggero’s series is composed of a collection of prints on canvas of cropped and enlarged fragments of high resolution images chosen from the Google Art archive. The idea was to show the “inaccessible secrets and flaws in the grain” of some of the most iconic paintings in western art history. After exhibiting the series at ULTRA in Udine and City Art in Milan, Leggero teamed up with independent art curator and critic Filippo Lorenzin to publish the series as a book, also titled Google Art on Canvas.

“During the past year Filippo and I selected and collected a lot of links about the relationship between art and technology, hi-resolution, the ever increasing trend to exploit art in its spectacular nature,” Leggero tells The Creators Project. “Part of this material was tweeted with the hashtag #GoogleArtOnCanvas, or shared on Facebook in a group interested in the matter.”

“Filippo then invited several artists and scholars to take part in the debate by writing texts about our project, and what followed was the need to fix those contributions and the material collected in a book,” he adds.

The list of contributors includes artist and curator Helena Acosta, Chair of Photography at the Paris College of Art Klaus Fruchtnis, multi-disciplinary artist and writer Gretta Louw, Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam researcher Nadine Roestenburg, and Mike Stubbs, director of FACT Liverpool and Professor of Art, Media and Curating at Liverpool John Moores University.

A number of things about the Google Art Project interest Leggero, but it’s the journey artworks take through various media, becoming something else along the way, that really intrigues him.

“One of my present interests is indeed the passage, or trip, of the artwork from one medium to another,” Leggero says. “I find it very stimulating as the object loses certain features and gains others in this transition. When we look at the cracks on the canvas, we lose the overall view and the materiality of the artwork becomes the key player in the show, thus transforming it in something new.”

Leggero suspects that some may imagine he operates like a hacker with access to secret codes. But he insists that what he does with Google Art on Canvas is very unsophisticated. He acquires several screenshots of the selected portion of the painting, then puts them together to get the hi-resolution image he need.

“What I want to suggest is that the portion of painting I crop and enlarge is not simply a hi-resolution detail of a famous artwork, but a bit of information provided by a private corporation,” Leggero explains. “By having access to such tools as Google Art Project, people are not using their own point of view, but rather seeing an object as Google wants them to see it.”

Click here to see more of Luca Leggero’s work.


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