For the art industry, digitising collections give institutions flexibility in showcasing artworks, ultimately making the pieces more eye-catching, informative and interesting. That’s why museums and smaller art galleries have quickly adopted digital media and are already beginning to create digital, truly interactive, exhibition catalogs.
Featured below is an article posted on Open Culture, showing how nine world-class museums are making practical and effective use of digital catalogs. New City Art perfectly captures the experience in one post, “…certainly the powerfully detailed zoom options allow viewers to observe details at a closeness that would not be available standing before the paintings in the museum, as well as details of how canvases are stretched, views of their reverse sides and photomicrographs that cross section the paintings’ grounds to see exactly how gesso and paint sit on the surface of the weave of the canvas.”
Digital catalogs can be strong extensions of a physical experience. In addition to accessibility, they’re a great solution on cost-reducing simplicity, and for people needing to know what’s available and where. I hope this will inspire other art institutions to bring magnum opuses to life at the pace of today’s evolving audience.
We’ve previously featured the various pioneering efforts of The Getty — from freeing 4,600 high-resolution art images (and then 77,000 more) into the public domain, to digitally releasing over 250 art books. Now they’ve put their minds to those rare, beautiful, and highly edifying specimens known as art catalogues. “Based on meticulous research, these catalogues make available detailed information about the individual works in a museum’s collection, ensuring the contents a place in art history,” announces their site. “Yet printed volumes are costly to produce and difficult to update regularly; their potential content often exceeds allotted space. One could say they are like thoroughbred horses confined to stock pens.” But now the Getty has offered a solution in the form of the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OCSI), creating an online platform for free catalogues — and not just the Getty’s, but those of any art institution.
You can access the first set of art catalogues released under the OSCI initiative here. As you can see, where the Getty goes, other institutions follow: The Art Institute of Chicago has released catalogues on the work of Monet and Renoir. The Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery has a catalogue on The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book, which sits nicely alongside LACMA’s catalogue on Southeast Asian Art. Other titles include Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century from the National Gallery of Art; The Rauschenberg Research Project from SFMOMA; Discover the Chinese Painting & Calligraphy Collection at the Seattle Art Museum; The Tates’s The Camden Town Group in Context; and the Living Collections Catalogue from the Walker Art Center.
You can learn more about the project, its development, and its potential in the short Getty video, “The Future of Digital Publishing in Museums.” Do note that, while you can, of course, view this wealth of catalogues on a computer, you’ll want to use a tablet for the optimized experience. And the more the OCSI initiative develops, the richer a reading experience you’ll have on any device; it not only provides users detailed art images, but also the options to “overlay them with conservation documentation, discover scholarly essays in easy-to-read formats, take notes in the margins that can be stored for later use, and export citations to their desktops.” And thus yet another unexpected benefit of the internet emerges: we are all art historians now.
If you haven’t made your catalogue off-beat, measurable and accessible to a wider audience by converting it into a digital format – try it and consider outsourcing, if you dont have the in-house skill. You’ll find that a shot at digital and outsourcing will help you create an awesome catalogue that drives customers further down the purchase funnel, opens on muti-platform and gets shared around.