More free stuff online

October 22 2012

Image of More free stuff online

Picture: Met Museum

The trend for US museums (but alas not UK ones) to make their collections and knowledge available online for free is growing. Now (I learn via Tribune de l'Art) the Met is putting all of its out of print exhibition catalogues online for free use. At the top of this page you can find current catalogues, which are not all free. But scroll down and you'll find the out of print ones. Enjoy! 

Update - a reader surveys the comparable situation in the UK:

The National Gallery in London published extensive catalogues of its permanent collections half a century ago, and have even published new editions since then.

But the Tate... 

well, back in 1988 they published a catalogue of 83 paintings and 85 prints & drawings by artists born 1675-1709, and very useful it has proved too. This was introduced as "the first to be published of a planned series which will eventually catalogue the whole of the British Collection at the Tate Gallery, each volume to cover a specific period." So confident were they that the plan would be executed, that this volume - the first to appear - was issued as volume 2. Nothing has appeared since.

It's not like they have a large historic collection. The Tate website labels a mere 110 paintings as 16th & 17th century and 103 as 18th century. Take out the 83 paintings already published in the 1988 catalogue and that leaves a mere 130 left to do. There are (I think) 4 or 5 curators or assistant curators concerned with the historic period at Tate Britain. How about they each undertake to catalogue 1 painting every fortnight, starting now? After all, there must be a lot of material in the files to draw from. They could have a draft catalogue ready in exactly a year. Two of the curators have been in post for many years so could perhaps proceed at a faster pace; for the new or more junior staff, it would be an excellent way of getting acquainted with the collection.

Tate's published 'mission' is 'to promote public understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art'. Thinking back to the Met, Philippe de Montebello's forward to the 3-volume catalogue of early American paintings begins thus: 'An essential part of the museum's mission is to provide information on numerous levels and in varying degrees to its widespread and diverse public.' So far, so Tate. But he continues: 'One of the most effective means for such communication is through publications, more specifically complete and detailed assessments of the permanent collections.' I couldn't agree more!

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