Cool for catalogues

18th January 2012

As I have blogged previously, the Reading Room initiative from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is terrific. This makes available for reading online a selection of the museum’s past catalogues. The ‘flippingbook’ format is perhaps not the easiest to use but crucially it preserves the illustrations, layout, typography and something of the materiality of these historical records. Now the Guggenheim has launched a similar initiative (the press release is here; thanks to @RebeccaJLittman for pointing me in the direction of this) as well as, intriguingly, a number of eBooks for the Kindle (priced at $1.99 each) created from curatorial essays. The e-book collection is a smart publishing initiative complementing a very smart and valuable free-to-access resource – and I can’t think of anything comparable from a British cultural institution.

The Guggenheim has put online details of around forty historical catalogues, although frustratingly not all of them can (yet?) be read in their entirety (and you can only determine this when you go to the individual entry). But among the important catalogues that you can now read online are the 1963 publication Francis Bacon with contributions by Lawrence Alloway and Thomas M. Messer (sample page spread above) and Alloway’s era-defining Six Painters and the Object, also from 1963 and featuring Johns, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Lichtenstein, Dine and Warhol. If nothing else, these documents from nearly fifty years ago indicate how inflated exhibition catalogues today are compared with then. Take a look at the reference list here.

While we’re reflecting, even if briefly, on museums digitising parts of their reference materials nad making them available online, it’s worth highlighting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s digitisation programme. ‘Digitizing the libraries’ collections: an introduction’ by Robyn Fleming and Dan Lipcan is a recommended recent online article introducing the Met’s recent work in this context. Then jump across to the listing of digital collections available from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries. Much of the available material is pretty specialist but I very much enjoyed browsing the album of Egyptian and Turkish photographs assembled by Rudolph H. and Lulu Reinhardt in 1906 on their wedding trip. Rather wonderfully, and properly, the Met recognises that, like many of the books online here, this volume is out of copyright and in the public domain – and so makes imposes no restrictions on the use of the images.

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