Google’s new Arts & Culture app brings the world’s art, virtual tours and more to your smartphone

Experiencing the world’s art just got a little easier, thanks to Google’s newly launched Arts Culture application which puts works of art from over a thousand museums across 70 countries into the palm of your hand. But the app goes beyond offering only static images and text – instead, it now offers tools to search art works by any keyword, browse by color, as well as see an artists’ works evolve over time. It even supports 360-degree virtual tours, which you can view in Google Cardboard, and an “Shazam for art”-like feature that will identify the painting in your camera’s viewfinder.

The Arts Culture application was available previously on both iOS and Android, but this release combines a number of Google’s more advanced technologies to make discovering, appreciating and viewing art a more immersive experience.

Similar to how Google Photos works, you can search for anything – like “shoes” or “all things gold,” notes Google in its announcement of the new release.

Plus, there are things that the technology enables that’s not even possible in the real world – like being able to view, at a glance, all of an artist’s work on a scrollable timeline. After all, many artists’ collections are split up across multiple museums around the world, which makes it difficult to perform a comprehensive comparison of lifetime’s work.

You can see this feature in action on Google’s Art Culture site, which shows how Van Gogh’s works went from gloomy to vivid, says Google. You can also click on different colors in a bar on the top when viewing an individual artist’s work, in order to filter by color. For instance, here’s Claude Monet’s use of gray.

While these features help the app’s user discover and understand art, one of the app’s more interesting features is its support for virtual tours. Already, the company has been working to offer ways to virtually visit famous landmarks, natural and man-made wonders, and more through its “Expeditions” program, aimed at bringing virtual field trips to schools.   

The tours in the new Arts Culture app are not entirely different. Using a virtual reality viewer like Google Cardboard, the app lets you do things like tour the street art scene in Rome or look around the ancient Greek temple of Zeus, for example. When available, these tours are indicated in the app with a little Google Cardboard icon.

There are also Street View-like tours available, too, where you can drag the image around with your finger and tap to move through the exhibit or location much as if you were navigating Google Maps Street View.

Another really clever feature is called “Art Recognizer,” which works at select galleries including London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. With this, you can point your phone at a painting, and the app will pull up all the information about the artwork – it’s sort of like Shazam, but for art.

Of course, the new app will also work for those actually visiting museums in real life, too. You can check out a museum’s page to find out opening times, what exhibits are there, and more.

The app is available now for iOS and Android.

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