Google Street Art Project Doubles Online Inventory

Jordan Riefe

The tech giant throws an L.A. arts district party to celebrate the expansion of its online street art library to about 10,000 images.

The ephemeral nature of street art is that it’s here today, gone tomorrow. But not if Google can help it. After last week’s announcement that they were adding 5,000 new images to the Google Street Art Project (doubling the existing database), a party in the heart of L.A.’s Arts District on March 17 only seemed appropriate.

Launched in June 2014, the street-art database features guided tours of nearly 260 virtual exhibits where users can browse art from 34 countries curated through more than 50 arts organizations partnered with Google on the project.

“The idea of having your work on the streets is also the idea of having it be seen by many people. Having this online presence can help people actually discover some of [artists'] work even if they can never see it in person,” Google’s Lucy Schwartz told The Hollywood Reporter.

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Held at The Container Yard, a downtown mecca for street artists, the party sprawled throughout two rooms of a warehouse and into an empty lot outside lined with food trucks. An open bar served cucumber margaritas, beer and wine as a DJ played blends of house music and soul. Mixing in the crowd were artists like Random Act, Levi Ponce and Davey Detail (David Leavitt) who, along with David Torres (aka Rabi) forms the two-man art collective Cyrcle in Hollywood. Their installation included a soundproof confessional where guests were encouraged to vocalize their regrets. Outside the booth their words were converted into sound waves projected on the wall.

Other artwork on display included a mural by Tristan Eaton covering the building's exterior while the loading yard offered works by David Flores and Fluke among others. Google exhibits gave guests a look at the high-resolution Gigapixel Art cameras, the Street View Trekker (the multi-angle camera used for Google Maps), and Liquid Galaxy, a wide curved screen affording the viewer immersive street art tours.

“Los Angeles is a great city for murals. For graffiti, legal or illegal, this city is super open-minded,” noted Spanish artist Fabio Lopez (aka DUORONE). “It’s a grand stage when you compare to Europe.” Lopez is responsible for a new mural covering the Eastman Kodak headquarters in Hollywood, a 7-by-35-meter piece featuring the broken visage of a starlet in black and white. His work will be protected by one of Google’s partners, the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, whose executive director, Isabel Rojas-Williams, is a longtime public art advocate and helped craft legislation that ended a 10-year moratorium on street art.

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“The mural conservancy can’t function as the mural police,” said Rojas-Williams. “It’s up to the artist to make the decision, and then some of them — not all of them — are saying they’re OK with registering,” she said, referring to a $60 permit fee for artists who want their work preserved.

While the Google project has its drawbacks, (imposing structure on an art form that celebrates a lack of structure, effectively curating and displacing works from their original context), its benefits to artists and audiences are overwhelming.

“It’s a good way for people to see art without thinking it’s illegal or graffiti or something dirty in the street,” noted Lopez about how the new online context might change the way street art is perceived. “There’s a lot of beautiful art in the street and lots of people don’t know that.”

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