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The museum catalogue into the digital age

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Museum catalogues are something that have not changed significantly over the time . If we consider how the museum is moving today towards new technologies and towards digital content, how can we rethink the museum catalogue for the digital age? for example in the case of catalogues collection of museums, would not  be much better for this kind of publication to be online?

The project “Living Collections Catalogue” (Walker Art Center), is  a contribution to an academic initiative promoted by the Getty Foundation about the topic Online Catalogue in Museums. We were surprised because of its full commitment to a true digital content. The copies that they currently have on their website are something completely different from the rigid image we have associated with this and we  can browse the different chapters like in any website, enlarge images, etc. … being the opposite concept to the pdf that we are used to see out there.

This project has also enabled them to create a serie of volumes that explores different objects in the collection together with a serie of thematic essays. For example, the first volume, “On Performativity” explores works of the collection based on this discipline and its relation with the visual arts, it includes works by Trisha Brown, Eiko and Koma, Tino Seghal, Hélio Oiticica and Yves Klein. For the reader, it is a different approach to the museum´s works. For  museums the creation of their catalogues would be faster, cheaper and it would consume less resources.

At the beginning  online catalogues were only the digital transposition of conventional catalogs, inheriting the structure of traditional catalogues: the image and the cataloguing data. There is now an effort by some institutions to change the concept of catalogue expanding to new discourses and new types of narratives that new technologies facilitate, in order to be more accessible and updatable. Furthermore, you can incorporate rich content, perform complex searches and be accessible from a tablet or smartphone.

The interesting and ambitious project that begun in 2008 “Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative” (OSCI) promoted by the Getty Foundation that invited nine museums (Tate, Art Institute of Chicago, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Walker Art Center and Seattle Art Museum) to perform the transition from printed catalogs to an online multimedia catalogue, available free to anyone who wants to use it from a computer or mobile device.


Catalogue James Ensor: The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Art Institute of Chicago.

Catalogue James Ensor: The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Art Institute of Chicago.

The project, with a duration of five years, explored the potential of online academic catalogs to determine the necessary institutional resources and support the creation of replicable models in order to:

1) Provide a more dynamic relationship between research, the publication of a catalogue, and the phases of re- publication.

2) Link to a wide range of primary and secondary resources (ranging from archive documentation and conservation, audio interviews and video).

3) Make greater use of comparative images.

If you are more interested about the topic you can get the document called  “Moving Museum catalog online Catalogues, 2008

From this link you can access to the resulting catalogues from the project from each of the participants.

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