PARIS — There’s a portrait of an anonymous Chinese man chiseled into a wall in Shanghai, a colorful mural in Atlanta and black-and-white photographs of eyes that the French artist JR affixed to the houses of a hillside favela in Rio de Janeiro. These are among the images of more than 4,000 works included in a vast new online gallery of street art that Google is unveiling here on Tuesday….
With the initiative, Google is the latest organization to wade into debates about how or whether to institutionalize, let alone commercialize, art that is ephemeral and often willfully created subversively. A private database of public art, it also poses questions about how to legally preserve what in some cases might be considered vandalism.In a sense, Google is formalizing what street art fans around the world already do: take pictures of city walls and distribute them on social media. Yet for Google to do so could raise concerns, given the criticism of its aggressive surveillance tactics, especially in Europe, where its Street View satellite mapping is widely seen as a violation of privacy.Google is taking pains to avoid offense by setting strict conditions. It will include only images provided by organizations that sign a contract attesting that they own the rights to them. It will not cull through Street View images but will provide the technology to organizations that want to use it to record street art legally. Some groups have provided exact locations of the artworks; others have not.