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The Walker’s next collection catalogue will be free for the whole world. Getty has sponsored nine art museums[i] to lead the pilot stage of what has been termed the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (you’ll hear it referred to around here as OSCI). Through innovative web-based architectures, each awarded institution will present visitors prodigious access to […]

The Walker’s next collection catalogue will be free for the whole world.

Getty has sponsored nine art museums[i] to lead the pilot stage of what has been termed the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (you’ll hear it referred to around here as OSCI). Through innovative web-based architectures, each awarded institution will present visitors prodigious access to artists’ works in the permanent collections.

At the Walker, we’re conceptualizing our own interpretation of what this new online space could be.

Considering that technology has enabled institutions to digitally preserve and activate a greater fraction of the 85% of its history that is otherwise considered ephemeral, buried, or disappeared, collection catalogues are up against a new set of expectations these days. There is a colossal amount of uncovered content to work with, not to mention the mega quantities of incoming material produced by still living contemporary artists that make up the greater part of our collection. So the traditional implication of “collections catalogue” has become a tenuous one. They can no longer be as delimited, static, impervious, finite. They shouldn’t be outdated before being published.  And this is where the OSCI takes up its task of archive mining and creative programming: thinking up appropriate ways to select from and to dynamically assemble unprecedented amounts of available information into a viable user interface.

Though the Getty Initiative is only in its planning stages over the next year, what is certain at the moment is that this next idea for the catalogue will be flexible, interactive, sensorial, and host a variety of media. It will invite visitors to experience works in the collection on significantly new levels of amplitude and proximity, while making visible the Walker’s relationships with artists over time, and emphasize courses of invention, adaptation, mutation, reanimation, and even erasure.

Tomás Saraceno, 32SW Stay Green/Flying Garden/Air-Port-City, 2007. Pillows with pressurized air, webbing, covered with black felt, grass, solar flexible panels, electrical cables, battery, solar pump, water supply system. 192-15/16 in. diameter. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

Tomás Saraceno, 32SW Stay Green/Flying Garden/Air-Port-City, 2007. Pillows with pressurized air, webbing, covered with black felt, grass, solar flexible panels, electrical cables, battery, solar pump, water supply system. 192-15/16 in. diameter. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

What is less certain is what it’s going to look like. Rethinking the potential of communicating the Walker’s collection of contemporary art to the public raises some good questions: how does an arts organization that is known for accessioning work from outside of the traditional artistic canon (Japanese Gutai, Viennese Actionism, Brazilian Neoconcretism), from artists who cross disciplines (Pierre Huyghe, Trisha Donnelly) and use ever-advanced, ever-bizarre, or ever-decaying technologies (Cao Fei, Kris Martin, Tomás Saraceno, Bruce Conner), and from collaborative and community-based projects (Sam Durant, Nari Ward), suitably reflect these energies through the OSCI? Rather than exist as antithetical to or stifle the content it encompasses, the new catalogue project has to appropriately sync its identity with the distinct creativities that compose the Walker’s collection. Talked about issues include indeterminateness, multiplicity, scale, totality, decentralization, temporality, motion, means of entry, hierarchies, authorship, and translation. These conversations are crucially influential to forming a proper vision for the OSCI catalogue’s design and functionality.

Elucidative to the development of this project are the larger art historical discussions on the topic of the archive. Of late, institutions have been discussing what an archive of contemporary art even is, and how can one rationalize the typologies output by cataloguing and using database structures to represent content that often exists only to repel such “normalizing” devices. Essential questions recently raised by Tate Modern’s Archiving the Artist symposium  (September 2009); Monash University’s Archive/Counter Archive conference (July 2009); CAA’s panel on What is Contemporary Art History (February 2009); Berkeley’s Archiving the Avant Garde consortium (2001), and by exhibitions such as Every Version Belongs to the Myth (Project Arts Centre, 2009); Working Title: Archive (Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, 2008); The Order of Things (MuHKA, Ghent, 2008), and artist projects including Helke Bayrle’s Portikus Under Construction film (2001-2008); Walid Raad’s The Atlas Group Archive (1999-present); Armin Linke’s Book on Demand (2003-present); Lev Manovich’s Soft Cinema (2000-2005); Carlos Amorales’ Liquid Archive (1999-present) continue to shape OSCI project, albeit through bouts of both illumination and bewilderment. But invaluable to the sensible and sensitive making (and unending tweaking) of this collections site is the exchange of insights from partner art spaces, people at the Walker who have worked with artists in our collection for decades, and from the artists themselves.

Nari Ward with members of the Lao Family Community of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 2000

Nari Ward with members of the Lao Family Community of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 2000

During Phase 1 of the project, with a year or so for us to all meet, mull and experiment on how this new collection catalogue will turn out (and in trying to ultimately find a nice balance between idealism and practicality), there is much exciting work to be done…

I’m Brooke, new here as the Getty fellow for the OSCI project. I flew in last week from San Francisco and arrive to the project with a recent Master’s degree in Exhibition and Museum Studies from San Francisco Art Institute. The past few years I’ve spent working on contemporary art archive research and projects. It’s great to be at the Walker, working with the Visual Arts and New Media departments to take part in this exciting initiative.

More updates soon.


[i] Other OSCI participants are Art Institute of Chicago, Freer Gallery of Art / Arthur M. Sackler Gallery,Smithsonian Institution, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art (DC), SFMoMA, Seattle Art Museum, Tate Gallery.

  • Devon says:

    Thanks for providing a closer look into your work and the initiative. I’m curious about the ways in which research occurs online with resources available from one’s desktop and how, if at all, this particular process of inquiry will engender meaning? Who is the online catalogue initiative directed towards? General visitors, scholars, both?

  • Brooke Kellaway says:

    After a recent two-day convening in Los Angeles at the Getty Center, together with the eight other institutions involved with the OSCI initiative, we addressed questions similar to those you’ve posed above, notably in two of the breakout sessions, entitled “Sustainability” and “Audience and Writing.” In the first, we talked about what the OSCI means for the field – for instance, how might this project change the culture of online information resources, and also how content is sustained. In the second, we debated the extent to which scholarly texts should be embedded and layered into a museum or art center’s website, their balance with less formal language, frequency of updates and reader response, amongst many other challenging issues including those around whether defining an audience is pertinent/possible.

    In the next week, a new blog entry will report on these conversations in greater depth, and elucidate the Walker’s reflection on how the Getty gathering enriched our ideas of how to approach the OSCI here. We very much appreciate the thoughtful feedback – thank you for commenting!