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Dog with human mask from Colima, Mexico (circa 200 BCE–500 CE) from LACMA on the Google Cultural Institute (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Google Cultural Institute, known for empowering internauts to Street View their way through museums and look very, very closely at digitized two-dimensional artworks, has ventured into the third dimension. The site has scanned, photographed, and uploaded 3D models of 303 objects from the collections of six institutions — the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco, the Museo d’Arte Orientale in Turin, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (KMV), the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA).

Thus far the 3D objects collection consists primarily of 242 animal skulls from the CAS’s collection. They range from a slightly terrifying head of a wolf eel to the gloriously sculptural horns atop the skull of a gerenuk and the quasi-minimalist triangular form of a marabou stork’s beak.

A hippopotamus sculpture from 2,000 BCE, in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, as seen in Google Cultural Institute (GIF by the author)

On the man-made objects end of things, antiquities dominate. LACMA’s contributions include a sculpture of a dog wearing a human mask (above), which was made between 200 BCE and 500 CE near Colima, Mexico. The most incredible may be a piece described as “The Oldest Mask in the World,” a stone mask with a creepy, toothy grin from about 7,000 BCE that belongs to the Israel Museum. Being able to rotate the 3D object and examine it from all angles gives a sense of its heft, texture, and the precision of its carving. The Israel Museum also uploaded the site’s newest object thus far, a 1939 sandstone bust of Nimrod by Itzhak Danziger. One of the collection’s most colorful works comes from the KMA: a 4,000-year-old turquoise-blue sculpture of a hippopotamus (above). The digital renderings of the artifacts and skulls were created by the Google Cultural Institute using the complex rig seen in action in this Slash Gear report on the project.

Though digitized objects are a first for Google, the British Museum ventured into similar territory last year when it made 3D models of 14 artifacts from its collection available to download, manipulate, and print for free. Google’s models aren’t downloadable — at least not yet.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...