Getty launches Google Goggles

Getty launches Google Goggles

Google Goggles


Not sure what painting you are gazing at or spotted at the gallery earlier that day? By taking a photo with Google Gogglesâ„¢ – a new mobile application for your smartphone – you can now instantly identify any painting in the Getty“™s collection, plus access related information and audio.

Report by Pauline Adamek

The J. Paul Getty Museum has announced a collaboration with Google that now enables visitors to have immediate access to rich online resources for information about paintings in the Museum”™s collection using Google Goggles â„¢

The “˜Google Goggles”™ application allows visitors to take a picture of any painting in the Getty Museum”™s vast collection – there are 430 paintings in the permanent collection – and instantly access mobile-optimized versions of the Getty”™s paintings collection pages on the Web.  Visitors have the opportunity to listen to audio, get biographical information about the artist and learn about and locate other works by the artist at the Getty.  Google Goggles also allows visitors to save a visual record of their trip through the galleries to explore after their visit and share with others.

“Curators are regularly faced with difficult choices about what information they can present on the limited amount of wall text next to a painting.  Do you talk about the painting”™s subject?  Its significance in art history?  The artist”™s life?   The painting”™s materials or technique?  With this application, visitors can get a much fuller story from the more detailed information delivered on their mobile device,” explains Scott Schaefer, senior curator of Paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

With Google Goggles, users are able to do a visual search by taking a photo of the painting, either in the galleries or in a reproduction.  The app uses Google”™s image recognition technology to identify the painting and return relevant information.  The Getty created a mobile-optimized version of its collection pages on the Web and provided the data to Google to ensure the visual search returns the most accurate and relevant results, beginning with the Getty”™s information and related resources.

“Google Goggles enables people to easily explore the world around them with a mobile device, creating a richer, more immersive experience,” said Shailesh Nalawadi, product manager at Google.  “Every day people are using Google Goggles to search for all kinds of things, including artwork.  Working with the Getty, we are able to refine the results to provide meaningful and relevant information for their visitors.”

The Getty is the first museum to work with Google to make their entire paintings collection available with Google Goggles. In doing so, Google and Getty staff worked together to identify some of the inherent challenges in providing the best information.  For instance, Claude Monet painted several versions of the Rouen Cathedral, and different versions are scattered all over the world, hanging at the Musée d”™Orsay, the National Gallery of Art, and other institutions, in addition to the Getty.  Because it can detect even subtle differences, the sophisticated computer vision algorithms developed by the engineers at Google were able to distinguish the Getty”™s Rouen Cathedral painting from other versions. The paintings are very similar but Goggles can distinguish between them and tell you which one you are looking at and precisely where in the world the others are hanging.

Additionally, images of the paintings you have snapped during your visits are stored in the app so you can take them home and review the information later. The information is both textual and audio visual. This app is available for iPhone and android. The kids”™ program even has cool extras such as making use of the little piglet in the lower left hand corner of the painting The Adoration of the Magi.

Scan the painting and goggles returns the information, including an audio track of an actor portraying the piglet and explaining the reason for him being there as well as the artist”™s painting technique. A scan takes a few seconds, uploads the image to the cloud, applies the recognition algorithm and returns a result in less than four swift seconds. Not bad!


Using Google Goggles in a museum raises another challenge – making sure users observe proper photography etiquette.  The Getty allows photography in the paintings galleries – but forbids flash in order to protect the artwork.  In some other galleries, photography is not permitted due to copyright issues. The Getty is working to help museum visitors understand the photography policies and to always turn off their flash before using Goggles. Since many of the Goggles searches will link to audio, which might disturb other Museum visitors, the Getty is making available earphones to Goggles users who don”™t have their own.  Security officers will also advise visitors of any special issues.

“At the Museum, we are committed to developing best practices, whether it”™s in seismic mitigation, digitization standards, or new technology to make the experience of our collection richer and more engaging for visitors. Google Goggles provides access to our collection in an easy and fun way and allows users to select and organize information on their own,” said Maria L. Gilbert of the Getty”™s Collection Information & Access department.


J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Visiting the Getty Center

The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Monday and major holidays. Admission to the Getty Center is always free. Parking is $15 per car, but free after 5pm on Saturdays and for evening events throughout the week. No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call 310-440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is 310-440-7305. The Getty Center is at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California.

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


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