Google Arts and Culture Face Match Gives New Meaning to “But First, Let Me Take a Selfie”

In 2018, it seems that going to a museum is out, but hanging in one is in.

Usually photography isn’t allowed in museums; however, all you need is a smartphone and Google’s Arts & Culture app to not only transport yourself to the Prado in Madrid or The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, but place you inside one of the paintings, too.

Apps that involve uploading one’s face, getting feedback, and sharing the results don’t seem like the best idea for your self esteem, but the latest iteration of Google’s app, which scours more than 1,200 museums in over 70 countries to find your fine art doppelgänger has become a viral hit.
It’s hard to say why some gimmicks take off and others flop, but the Google Arts & Culture app sure got its wings over the weekend, quickly soaring to the top of the app charts until it seemed like just about everyone with access to a smartphone and a social media account was twinning with their famous painting.
Forget the fact that Google launched the app and online page in 2016, allowing users to browse a trove of artwork sourced from hundreds of museums worldwide. It was the portrait feature quietly included in last month’s update that has spun the selfies into overdrive; once the fine art selfies began showing up on Twitter and Facebook, forget about it: everyone was downloading this app.
Perhaps we can’t resist the vain pleasure of seeing and showcasing our own faces reflected back in a famous work of art. Or maybe it’s just fun.

It works like this: iPhone or Android users must download the app, then find the, “Is your portrait in a museum?” function, and take and submit their photo. Google sifts through the thousands of paintings in its database, in like, two seconds, and using its computer vision software makes a match alongside a percentage of how well the two images resemble each other.

(There is no explanation given about the supposed science behind this.)
On that note, the app has delivered matches that had some of us wondering whether it was intentionally trolling us; as the 2BD crew discovered, uploading selfies often resulted in different, equally amusing results.
Personally, I was surprised to discover that my portrait used to hang in the Hudson River Museum in nearby Yonkers, NY. Compared to my other match, Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden at the Royal Armory, Lt. Coates was in my own backyard, not halfway around the world, so I was super pumped to pay the museum a visit and check out the exhibit of which I’m a part, thanks to Google: Westchester Women & War Portraits 1943-1945.
As World War II raged, Yonkers women took a chance to soldier for their country by enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). Before embarking for posts around the world, the museum and a local artist commissioned a project to paint the portraits of the Yonkers’ enlistees to, “ensure the future generations…have a living record of our fighting women.”
Pretty powerful, right? I learned all this from fooling around with an app. It’s just too bad I won’t be seeing Lt. Coates anytime soon, as the collection was last displayed at the Hudson River Museum in 2012. However, thanks (again) to Google’s Arts & Culture app, I was able to connect with my portrait in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Am I still interested in checking out the museum? Absolutely.
So Happy Matching, all! I hope you find new meaning to using Portrait Mode on your iPhone.


Two Buttons Deep is a news & entertainment website based in upstate New York.
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  1. Ted Barrow

    As a matter of fact, we will be showcasing some of the portraits that people are seeing themselves in very, very soon.

    • Katie

How do you feel?

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