1,600+ High-Resolution Images of Artwork Now Available for Free... Read More
Explore public domain images from the Jewish Museum collection on TheJewishMuseum.org and Google Arts and Culture
Earlier this summer, the Jewish Museum made more than 1,600 images of collection objects in the public domain available for free high-resolution download on the Museum’s online collection. Today, these works are also available online to explore on Google Arts & Culture, Google’s online platform for accessing more than 6 million high-resolution images of artworks.
In recent years, museums around the world have released thousands of high-resolution images into the public domain to further inspire, educate, and promote broader awareness of visual literacy online. A work of art passes into the public domain in one of several ways: its copyright expires, the image is produced by a government employee, or it is created with specific Creative Commons licenses at the discretion of its creator. In the United States, works of art greater than 120 years old are generally considered public domain; this year, anything created before the year 1898 is available for public use.
At the Jewish Museum, images of 1,639 objects have been identified as public domain status with high-resolution photography. To search through these images online, simply select “Works with High-Res Images” to filter results, or look for the “PD” icon at the bottom of the image on each page.
The Jewish Museum’s diverse collection of nearly 30,000 objects spans 4,000 years of art and Jewish culture, from antiquities created in the 6th millennium BCE, to contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, and media works. At the Museum, nearly 600 works are on view now in the rotating exhibition Scenes from the Collection. For audiences who can’t make it to New York, the exquisite detail of objects such as this 18th-early 19th century Marriage Wall Panel or Table Top from Italy can now be examined close-up online. Created on the occasion of a marriage, the high-resolution image of the mosaic reveals the artist’s precision in carefully cutting and arranging each piece of stone.
Once in the public domain, images are available free of charge for any use, including modification and distribution. In the history of art, artists have frequently cited images of the past to re-examine the present. The Jewish Museum collection contains many examples of artists who have radically adapted ritual objects, while bringing these works into a new focus.
In 1994 — decades before the Jewish Museum collection was digitized — the artist Gay Block collaborated with Malka Drucker to create A Recontextualized Ketubbah. Block and Drucker started with a high-resolution image of a ketubbah (a Jewish marriage contract) created in Livorno, Italy in 1751 from the collection. The artists then superimposed an image of their own wedding five years earlier onto the document, and behind it, placed a blown-up image of the intricately embroidered textile used in creating the couple’s wedding outfits. The result is a striking contrast between a centuries-old ritual object, and the nostalgia of a black and white wedding photograph in which the two brides clutch hands and gaze into each other’s eyes. Vibrant pink petals emerge from behind the ketubbah, wrapping the composition in a warm glow. This superimposition simultaneously demonstrates deference for the traditions of Judaism, while updating the document to be more inclusive of the diversity of Jews today.
All artwork can age into the public domain, such as the original ketubbah referenced by Block and Drucker, however images created by U.S. government employees are available to the public from their inception. Jewish Museum collection artist Debbie Grossman took advantage of this in her 2009–2010 photographic series My Pie Town. Her images are based on photographs by the Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee, who documented Pie Town, New Mexico at the tail end of the Great Depression. Lee’s original photographs, which frame sun-weathered nuclear families and farm animals against dusty landscapes, are available through the Library of Congress.
After reading Pie Town Woman: The Hard Life and Good Times of a New Mexico Homesteader by Joan Myers, which foregrounds the story of town local Doris Caudill, Grossman wondered what the photographic memory of the small town would look like if women were the central figures of each image. Taking to Photoshop, Grossman surgically removed men from these images and edited women into their places, re-imagining an archive of a utopian lesbian community in the American southwest. On the series, the artist has said:
“I am filled with a longing to connect with that time and the people in Lee’s images. But as a modern, queer woman, there is no room for me or for my objects of desire in his pictures. So in an attempt to make the history I wish was real, I have made over Pie Town to mirror my fantasy.”
In Jessie Evans-Whinery, homesteader, with her wife Edith Evans-Whinery and their baby, the two women stare straight at the camera, their faces brightly lit against dark plaid and a worn homestead interior. The title’s factual description, combined with Grossman’s skillful rendering, make the photograph’s edits imperceptible for those that do not know its context. In Lee’s original 1940 photograph titled Jack Whinery, homesteader and family, Pie Town New Mexico, only the patriarch is mentioned by name, and his height dominates the image. In Grossman’s revision, the women are equals, their surroundings a little bit brighter, and dates are removed. Grossman’s artistic intervention demonstrates the value of the public domain: in her appropriation of public property, a state-created visual document is reworked to suit a new public. The images that make up My Pie Town are fanciful, yet hopeful — they imagine a country that could have been, and one which still could be.
With more than 1,600 high-resolution images of artwork in the Jewish Museum collection that await for your consumption, distribution, and re-interpretation, what will you create?
— Jeremy Lee Wolin, Digital Intern
Explore, download, and share high-resolution images from the Jewish Museum collection online at TheJewishMuseum.org/Collection.
1,600+ High-Resolution Images of Artwork Now Available for Free Download was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.