Skip to content Skip to navigation Skip to collection information

OpenStax_CNX

You are here: Home » Content » Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age » Collaborative and Museum Publications

Navigation

Lenses

What is a lens?

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

This content is ...

Affiliated with (What does "Affiliated with" mean?)

This content is either by members of the organizations listed or about topics related to the organizations listed. Click each link to see a list of all content affiliated with the organization.
  • Rice Digital Scholarship display tagshide tags

    This collection is included in aLens by: Digital Scholarship at Rice University

    Click the "Rice Digital Scholarship" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

  • Ricepress display tagshide tags

    This collection is included inLens: Rice University Press Titles
    By: Rice University Press

    Comments:

    "Also from Rice University Press"

    Click the "Ricepress" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

Recently Viewed

This feature requires Javascript to be enabled.

Tags

(What is a tag?)

These tags come from the endorsement, affiliation, and other lenses that include this content.
 

Collaborative and Museum Publications

Module by: Hilary Ballon, Mariet Westermann. E-mail the authors

Electronic publication has the potential to rejuvenate the catalogue, now the staid dowager queen of art history scholarship. Catalogues raisonnés, museum collection catalogues, and exhibition catalogues—the three types of catalogues differ in scope but not in concept. They are collaborative in nature, usually large in scale, and intensive in focus. Their distinguishing feature is close analysis of individual works of art, with exhaustive and current data on dating, authorship, quality, condition, interpretation, and provenance, among other things.

The catalogue raisonné embodies the scholarly values of exactitude and thoroughness. It aspires to document an artist's complete oeuvre, which not infrequently involves locating and documenting a thousand or more works of art, a prodigious effort extending over a decade or more. Publication of catalogues raisonnés, often in multiple volumes, is invariably costly, yet immediately upon publication, they fall out of date: an unknown work surfaces, a date is revised, an attribution is challenged, ownership changes. There is no efficient way to collect and communicate corrections once the catalogue is published.

Research and publication are independent, sequential steps in the prevailing print-world scenario, but catalogues are precisely the sort of scholarship that would be enhanced by a more dynamic electronic process that allowed research and publication to overlap and inform one another in a feedback loop. Partial publication would elicit response, which in turn would enrich subsequent entries or assists in sleuthing out other works of art. Electronic communication would mobilize a more organic connection between research and publication, with data collection, incremental publication, and correction and revision occurring simultaneously under the close supervision of an editor. Collaborative software allows contributors to work in a collective online space that promotes the exchange of information and ideas. As catalogue sections are completed, they could be electronically published; no need to wait for the entire corpus to be completed before publication, which could take many years. Editors of electronic catalogues could regularly correct misinformation, report on disputed attributions, update bibliography, and detail the historiographical record as it changes over time. Readers could gain access to information in a timelier manner and could target their research with tagging and search engines that surpass print indexes. With a click, the researcher could group works by date, subject, medium, or location. As other fields have discovered, document collections and primary source materials, such as artists' correspondence, criticism, and sales records, are also prime candidates for electronic publication because data-mining tools increase their research value.

Electronic publication need not surrender the individual authorial voice to a nameless, collective mind along the lines of Wikipedia. Scholars could set the ground rules so that collaboration unfolds under editorial supervision and revising preserves rather than effaces variant editions and changing thoughts.1 Indeed, it is easy to imagine the online catalogue as a more resonant framework to record differentiated voices, changing judgments, and the growth of knowledge.

Museum Publications

Art history is fortunate to have two institutional bases, the museum and university, which enrich the field in different ways. Curators may feel their authority infringed by the rising importance of education, development, and design departments, but one of the unequivocally salutary aspects of the exhibition boom that characterizes modern museum culture is the growing collaboration of scholars from the museum and university worlds.2 The exhibition and its catalogue constitute a vibrant intersecting space between the museum and the university, and the increase in the number of exhibition catalogues has created opportunities for academic art historians, who are often asked to contribute expertise and catalogue essays.

The remarkable and continuing growth of museum exhibitions with large audiences and handsomely produced catalogues presents a singular resource for art historians and their publishers. Exhibition catalogues give scholars access to a wider readership than is available with other scholarly publications, and their copious, full-color illustrations give substance and pleasure to close readings of art works. As Part I of this report indicates, exhibition catalogues have become a mainstay of some university press lists because, unlike the monograph with its dwindling sales, the catalogue comes with a good business plan: a publication subvention, guaranteed advance sales, free advertising, and fewer copyright issues, many of which were resolved in exhibition planning. (Fifty percent of the biggest university press art history list is devoted to catalogues.) Notwithstanding the attractions of catalogues to authors, publishers, and the public, the full potential of the genre has not been exploited.

It is important to recognize that catalogues serve two distinct audiences: the museumgoing public and the scholarly community of art historians and curators. Access to a large, intellectually curious public is one of the great assets of art history, and the exhibition catalogue is the primary vehicle through which that connection is made. It is worth asking if the catalogue best serves the needs of its two-part audience. There are very good scholarly, educational, and business reasons for museums to continue to coordinate the publication of catalogues with the opening of the exhibit. Nevertheless, the limits such a schedule imposes on the scholarly potential of catalogues encourage rethinking how exhibition publications might better fulfill their potential as sites of collaboration between museum- and university-based scholars.

One problem with the current system is that tight publishing deadlines driven by exhibition schedules require catalogues to limit or bypass the time-consuming process of peer review. Content editing often falls in the lap of an overextended curator preoccupied with the exhibition itself, and time constraints often preclude the developmental editing that normally improves manuscripts. Thus, although university presses publish these books, exhibition catalogues are fast-tracked and vetted less stringently than most monographs. As a result, catalogues are inconsistent in quality, and academic scholars find that their catalogue essays do not weigh heavily in tenure and promotion review. When asked if it is possible to extend the benefits of peer review to museum-based publications, the answer is usually negative. Scholars, curators, and editors expressed keen awareness of these drawbacks of exhibition publications. Junior as well as senior scholars would like top-quality museum publication to be taken more seriously in the academic review process. Such regard would be likely to follow if museum publications were more consistently peer reviewed.

A second concern arises from the publication of exhibition catalogues before the events they describe. As a result, the content of the book is uninformed by the exhibition itself. Exhibition catalogues generally comprise two parts: a set of essays aimed at a wide audience and addressing overarching themes, and a catalogue of the exhibited work, which is primarily for specialists. Except for the organizing curators, who have scoured collections in selecting objects to exhibit, most book contributors compose their texts without benefit of studying the work firsthand. The entries, having been written before the exhibition is assembled, cannot capture the important insights to be derived from comparative study of the works nor reflect the varied expertise of academics, curators, conservators, frame experts, and other specialists that the museum convenes.

The catalogue would be more useful if updated to reflect new information and insights developed over the course of an exhibition. Electronic publication offers a flexible format suited for the iterative thought process exhibitions set in motion. The pre-exhibition book might be accompanied by a digital extension on a museum website that serves as a portal for scholarship pertaining to the exhibition. The website could accommodate ongoing cataloguing, provide an interactive space to discuss exhibition-related issues, and allow curators and academic art historians to exchange their specialized knowledge. The well-trained scholars who work as curators are often frustrated by the limited opportunities they are afforded to pursue serious research. Museums invest heavily in exhibitions. These investments should be capitalized on by taking greater advantage of the exhibitions as sites of research and expanding the participation of curators in scholarly endeavors. Online publication could support these goals and take advantage of the considerable expertise in image display and analysis developed by museum education and design departments.

It should be acknowledged that museums already foster scholarly and intellectual exchange in various ways. In-house curators frequently engage guest curators and catalogue contributors from the academic community. Exhibition and installation planning grants of the kind provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Federation of the Arts rely on close cooperation between host museums and external curators and scholars. This kind of productive exchange frequently continues during the run of the exhibitions or on the occasion of reinstallations. Well-resourced museums from the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum to the Clark Art Institute and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum hold scholars' study days in the galleries and present public symposia, often organized in collaboration with neighboring academic institutions or in-house research centers. Publication of these events tends to be limited to the symposia though, for the very good reason that not every observation or comment in an informal gathering of scholars needs to be recorded. Nevertheless, the wonderful opportunity of seeing normally dispersed objects in close proximity, for a sustained period and often together with colleagues from the academy, museum, and conservation worlds, might lead to more dynamic forms of post-exhibition publication.

Models for publication of sustained scholarly discussion of conservation and exhibition projects exist, but such publications are extremely rare. When museums and scholars manage to produce them, the publications have great potential to become authoritative reference works and records of new thought. In 1998 the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) mounted the exhibition Jackson Pollock: A Retrospective. This was followed by the publication in 1999 of a book edited by the show's curators and with a significant focus on new findings produced during the exhibition.3 In 2000, MoMA published a compilation of interviews, articles, and reviews about Pollock, edited by one of the curators.4 A delay of just one or two years for such exhibition-related research is remarkably fast. On another front, for the past few years, an international group of curators, conservators, and scholars have been engaged in regular discussions of the cleaning and restoration of Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise. These consultations and shared viewings, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, are helping shape an exhibition of some of the restored panels in 2007, curated by the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence, and publication of the results of these cooperative studies is intended.

In conclusion, the pre-exhibition book is an indispensable form of communication, but it might be still more useful if recognized as a starting point rather than a culmination of research, as it now aspires to be, and if it were part of an expanded portfolio of exhibition-related publications in print and electronic format. The goal is to develop other publication genres and formats that take advantage of the exhibition itself and materialize during and after the exhibition to harvest and disseminate its significance.

Footnotes

  1. On the benefits and risks of the Wikipedia model for scholarship, see Roy Rosenzweig, "Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past," Journal of American History 93 no. 1 (June 2006), 117-46. For a vigorous critique of Wikipedia and the responses it elicited, see Jaron Lanier, "Digital Maoism: The Hazards of New Online Collectivism," May 30, 2006 and June 8, 2006, Edge, http://www.edge.org/archive.html.
  2. The increasing emphasis on temporary shows rather than collection publication has curtailed research opportunities for most curators, although well-funded institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Getty Museum have continued to publish significant collection catalogues and curatorial journals.
  3. Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel, eds., Jackson Pollock: New Approaches (New York: MoMA, 1999).
  4. Pepe Karmel, ed., Jackson Pollock: Interviews, Articles, Reviews (New York: MoMA, 2000).

Collection Navigation

Content actions

Download:

Collection as:

PDF | EPUB (?)

What is an EPUB file?

EPUB is an electronic book format that can be read on a variety of mobile devices.

Downloading to a reading device

For detailed instructions on how to download this content's EPUB to your specific device, click the "(?)" link.

| More downloads ...

Module as:

PDF | EPUB (?)

What is an EPUB file?

EPUB is an electronic book format that can be read on a variety of mobile devices.

Downloading to a reading device

For detailed instructions on how to download this content's EPUB to your specific device, click the "(?)" link.

| More downloads ...

Add:

Collection to:

My Favorites (?)

'My Favorites' is a special kind of lens which you can use to bookmark modules and collections. 'My Favorites' can only be seen by you, and collections saved in 'My Favorites' can remember the last module you were on. You need an account to use 'My Favorites'.

| A lens I own (?)

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks

Module to:

My Favorites (?)

'My Favorites' is a special kind of lens which you can use to bookmark modules and collections. 'My Favorites' can only be seen by you, and collections saved in 'My Favorites' can remember the last module you were on. You need an account to use 'My Favorites'.

| A lens I own (?)

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks