Blogs Untitled (Blog) Getty Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative

Interview with Robert Bechtle

Robert Bechtle has been painting his surroundings in the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1950s. When I went to interview him the other day, it was a bit like being inside one of his photorealist works. On my way to his place in Potrero Hill I walked up some steep hills flanked by rows […]

Robert Bechtle in his studio.

Robert Bechtle has been painting his surroundings in the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1950s. When I went to interview him the other day, it was a bit like being inside one of his photorealist works. On my way to his place in Potrero Hill I walked up some steep hills flanked by rows of sunlit flat-front houses, under crisscrosses of power lines, and in and out of morning street shadows I recognized from his paintings and drawings. I crossed the streets in 20th and Mississippi Night (2001) and a few blocks over to the east is the corner in Covered Car – Missouri Street (2001)—both charcoal on paper drawings in the Walker’s collection. He would say later, “They’re all things that I’ve noticed just living here. Things that I see on my walk in the morning, or I’m driving by and something jumps out and says, ‘Photograph me.’” He may be the most familiar with San Francisco’s architecture over the past 60 years. Sometimes he’d draw and paint the same scene several times. (more…)

Cataloguing Performance

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed University of Coventry professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files.

Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton, Songs of Ascension, 2008. Photo: Walker Art Center.

When artists such as Tino Sehgal, Meredith Monk, Danh Vo, Trisha Brown, or Merce Cunningham enter the Walker Art Center’s collections, some vexing issues arise when it comes to cataloguing their often ephemeral, multidisciplinary, and indiscrete works.

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. We will revisit questions that have existed since the 60s but have become pressing of late: why do it, for whom is it done, what is captured and how, what is discarded and why, what is updated and when, and whose perspective is it… The workshop, led by Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts, and Robin Dowden, Director of New Media Initiatives, will inform design and development for cataloguing the Walker’s 50-year history of performance art commissions.

Abi Sebaly, Cunningham Fellow, catalogs the costumes Robert Rauschenberg designed for Merce Cunningham's Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Gene Pittman.

In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed Coventry University professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files. Their team worked together for 30 months before the project launched online in 2009. We spent an hour or so talking about documenting and publishing information on living artists’ performance work.

Homepage for Siobhan Davies Replay.

Some excerpts of our conversation:

Brooke Kellaway: The question of how much to involve the artists is definitely on my mind. It’s their work the catalogue is representing and we want their input—pragmatic and creative. At the same time, with hundreds of artists in the Walker’s collection, we’re trying to construct some sort of coherency and consistency in the catalogue entries. Were you really open to the project evolving in collaboration with Siobhan Davies, or did you from the start have a set structure in mind?

Sarah Whatley: It was very much working in collaboration with the artist, from the beginning. And that was not without its challenges, as you can imagine. In a way, the artist is thinking—understandably and rightly so—about her representation through the online, which is very different from how they’re represented either through what is understood as being the past, and surely the live present if they’re still making work. But of course when you’re building something that has to be robust and stable as an online resource, in a way we had to manage quite carefully their engagement with the nuts and bolts of the backend—to try and get them focused on the more aesthetic frontend part of it. But that could be quite tricky. I think it’s about managing that collaboration so the artist feels really involved and has a real sense of ownership, but on the other hand not permitting them to have too much control. It’s not an easy balance, and we struggled with it—it was all really healthy, all those tensions are ultimately really productive, but there are tensions.

Brooke Kellaway: In making these kinds of new web-based resources, what is your stance on selection in terms of publishing material also accessible elsewhere (such as early press reviews), or focusing more on material that’s otherwise quite difficult for researchers to access, or both?

Electrical diagram for Trisha Brown Company’s Glacial Decoy (1979) at Walker Art Center, 1979. Credit: Walker Art Center.

Sarah Whatley: This is a really important question. Of course the notion of an archive sort of suggests that it’s everything you can possibly get your hands on. And in a way I think the value of something which is archival in nature is in a way the user finds the meaning and connections so it doesn’t become overly curated or selected or edited in putting content up there. But there’s a pragmatic approach as well, which is to say, what can we really achieve in a timeframe that’s going to make this feel like a really full collection? Ultimately I think it comes down to what we can achieve. My advice from the experience we’ve had is to try to include as much as possible, because even if it’s already in the public domain, it won’t be in the same way in the public domain if it’s online because people are making connections that they wouldn’t make when they’re seeing a different copy. On the other hand, once you give people some content, then they’ll be intrigued to find out more content. So it’s a gateway to what else is available. The online means that you’ve got that wonderful environment in which you can put out a lot of stuff that otherwise would not be seen…it might never make it into the public any other way, such as rehearsal material and so on, and that seems to be really valuable from a user point of view, it’s information they really can’t get otherwise.

Brooke Kellaway: Did Siobhan Davies maintain her own archive before you started this project? Did she organize a lot of her content in advance?

Sarah Whatley: No. Well, the Company had a bit of a system—they had quite a lot of it neatly filed, but there was a lot that was still in boxes, and in paper bags, and plastic boxes, and unorganized, and stuff that she thought she owned and she didn’t, and we had to go in and find who owned the rights to things, and so forth…

One of the things that she’s absolutely brilliant about now as a Company, is that every time she does anything she gets sign off for everybody that’s involved in the performance. And this has been really important. Because her practice has shifted a bit, I mean she isn’t making work for theaters anymore, she’s making work in gallery spaces, she’s making installation work, and she’s working with major visual artists. She’s also now collecting like mad, collecting traces of the work, so, whereas some of the earlier works have got very little content—just a few videos, some photographs, and a bit of text—now she’s generating hundreds of images and hundreds of traces of her work, which is in itself quite demanding because we have to add the content. So essentially yes, the company collects everything and then we—the university—put it on the site.

But, it’s an interesting question…I must just ask you about Eiko & Koma’s wonderful website  that is sort of archival in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: This is the perfect example. They’re so completely excited about the Walker presenting this history of their work with the Walker, and at the same time, they already have this beautiful and very rich archive of their own. I’ve been wondering how much our content should overlap—would we be using our resources most wisely if we present a certain amount of the same information? I’m not sure. Of course, as you mentioned earlier, users will make different connections based on the way the material is presented on the Walker’s site, vs. on Eiko & Koma’s site, and elsewhere, and our standards will differ, etc.

Homepage of eikoandkoma.org

Sarah Whatley: It could work very well – users who use yours may jump off onto their website and vice versa. I don’t think it as a problem of duplication, because in a way they are quite different things.

When I was over in the States last year, Eiko & Koma came into a Network meeting that we were having and I was just fascinated by their discussion of Naked, and it’s presence on their site. It was very interesting how they bring their experiences as artists into that space. For example, of course the work is really slow and it takes a long long time to unfold. And they were saying things like, “We had to make it read online…there’s no point of having 17 minutes of doing nothing….” So they shrunk the screen and they changed the time span of the work, and that sort of thing, and they were of course coming at it from a choreographer’s perspective, they were thinking of it from a dance maker’s perspective, which is incredibly valuable. But when it’s their own content in their space, they can do that, they can be sort of playful. So I think it’s just about being careful about how those negotiations are carried through, because you will need to take ownership of what it is you’re doing but also respond to them as an artist thinking, “Well, actually our work reads very differently online.” So of course it’s about a healthy dialogue and a healthy negotiation, but it’s also I think from your point of view being very clear about what your purpose is and what you’re creating, and how does the artist come into that space of your creation, because it is your creative space in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: Absolutely. And I think it’s so important to communicate that dialogue and that negotiation to the user so they come into the site and they really understand our impetus, and our process, and our relationship with Eiko & Koma. To either see it as a collaboration with the artist or not, or something in between. And that’s really important to convey to researchers.

Sarah Whatley: Yes, to make the lens through which they’re meeting the work is extremely important.

Brooke Kellaway: How have researchers responded to your project?

Sarah Whatley: Generally really positive. I mean, inevitably, with something which is a bit pioneering in the sense certainly there’s very little else in the UK which is archival like this, of course they say, “Well now we want the same for all these other choreographers!” So it kind of sets the bar and all of that. But generally, I think one of the things researchers appreciate is the immediate, quick, one-click access to a lot of different material so they can make connections as I mentioned earlier, so they can see very quickly a span of work, they can see how work shifted and changed over time, so they can make quick connections between text-based material and visual material. And we‘ve got the scrapbook tool which is a really easy tool, which means the user can collect those searches and thoughts in a very easy and trackable way.

Also, Davies is not really an artist who goes outside of the UK very much, but a lot of people across the world are now coming into her work, either because they’re intrigued about the archive as an archive or because they’ve found her material and then are seeing her work. So in a way it’s a new way of generating audiences.

Brooke Kellaway: Do you keep it updated with new material that is found?

Sarah Whatley: Yes we do, and that’s really challenging!

Brooke Kellaway: How many people are working on this?

Sarah Whatley: Well, theoretically nobody! No, I’m joking a certain part—because you get funding, and you build the thing, and you put it out in the world, and you kind of go “that’s it,” and of course it’s never “that’s it” because every time the artist makes something new it needs to go up. We want to keep the site fresh, so we do little tweaks with the color palette and things like that, and all of those kinds of things have real costs associated. The University in effect is still managing the updating. But it’s not easy, because again you’re managing an expectation of an artist who keeps making really different work. So of course she’s now saying, ‘”Oh but I want the archive to look different because I’m doing really different work,” and we’re saying, “But we can’t change the back end! The architecture for the archive is the architecture.” We can do some fairly low cost updates but we can’t do anything major.

Brooke Kellaway: Will the project continue indefinitely?

Sarah Whatley: We do have an agreement in place, which is 3 years, which we will then review, and see whether or not the partnership is productive and working for us. Inevitably funding is a big issue in that because it’s really hard to think in terms of how we continue to sustain the archive other than simply adding content. We’ve got licenses in place with a lot of our contributors and we’ll need to renegotiate those at some point, and all of those have costs involved, such as annual server costs, and all of those sorts of things. There are the staffing costs, and staff time. It’s a bit of a myth that once you build an archive it’s done and it’s finished. Of course the technology evolves as well, and already what we’ve started off with 3 years ago is already sort of ancient technology.

Brooke Kellaway: What are your most important pieces of advice for the kind of project we’re doing?

Sarah Whatley: Get as rich information as you possibly can from the artist—such as where exactly did this happen, who was in it—so that you can get as much knowledge about the performance. Because that in a way is what’s most useful for the user—they’re looking for extensive information, and the only people who can probably provide that are often the artists. That’s really important knowledge, it’s really critical knowledge. We thought we were going to be deluged with content, and actually we had to work quite hard to get information out of people. So at times you have content there but you might not have all the information about the content, so ask the artists as much as possible.

And the other thing is to test it, get it out there and prototype, get users in to test it and to tell you what it is they find useful or difficult, and what’s there that they want more of and need. Interestingly, with Davies, she was really not that happy to test it before she felt like it was finished, complete. For us, it was really important to get it out when it was still really a bit scratchy and unfinished. We didn’t try to finish something before users told us what was working and wasn’t working. So go through a series of user testing, it’s really important because ultimately that’s your audience and your user community.

Brooke Kellaway: Thanks so much Sarah.

Sarah Whatley: It sounds very exciting. And I wish you the very very best of luck.

***

If you’re interested in further reading on the topic of cataloguing/archiving performance, here’s a list of sources extracted from a larger bibliography I’ve been composing while working on the Walker’s new collection catalogue (to launch on collections.walker.org sometime next year).

Allender, Paul, Ross Varney, and Sarah Whatley. “Digitizing Siobhan Davies’ Dance.” Body, Space & Technology, 7 (2) (2008): 1-13.

Clarke, Paul. “Performing the Archive: the Future of the Past.” Draft of the talk by Paul Clarke for research project, Inside Movement Knowledge. October 31, 2009.

Edmunds, Becky. “Creating Digital Documentation of Performance.” Video compilation of workshop for JISC Digital Documentation and Performance seminar, September 23-35, 2009, organized by JISC Digital Media and University of Bristol.

Heydenreich, Gunnar. “Documentation of Change – Change of Documentation.” In Inside Installations, edited by Tatja Scholte and Glenn Wharton, 165-171.  Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011. **Heydenreich presented his paper in 2010 at the International Symposium Contemporary Art Who Cares?

Hoffmann, Jens, Klaus Biesenbach, RoseLee Goldberg, Robert Wilson. Artistic Production | Collecting Performance. Recorded 11 June 2009, Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Hölling, Hanna. “On the Afterlife of Performance.” Essay for symposium, The Manifold (after) lives of Performance, November 13-15, 2009, coproduced by DeAppel and STUK Kunstencentrum.

Inside Movement Knowledge: a two-year collaborative, interdisciplinary research project into new methods for the documentation, transmission and preservation of contemporary choreographic and dance knowledge.

MAP (Media | Archive | Performance): a research project on media, art and performance.

Mulready, Thomas. “Performance Art Festival+Archives.Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach, by Alain Depocas, et al. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, 2003.

Potts, Alex. “The Artwork, the Archive, and the Living Moment.” In What is Research in the Visual Arts?, edited by Michael Ann Holly and Marquard Smith, 119-137. Williamstown: Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, 2008.

Siobhan Davies Replay: online archive of British choreographer, Siobhan Davies. 

The Cataloguing Performance workshop is supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences’ grant-funded project, “CollectionSpace: Cultivating Shared Software Solutions Among Communities of Practice.” Attendees by invite only. Please check back mid-November for outcomes of the event.

CAA in NYC: Notes

Professors, writers, artists, curators, and graduate students exchanging their ideas about contemporary art and culture at this year’s College Art Association conference in New York, lent some insight and reflection on the progress of this ever-in-the-making collection catalogue that the Walker Art Center is in the midst of producing. My session itinerary included presentations related […]

Professors, writers, artists, curators, and graduate students exchanging their ideas about contemporary art and culture at this year’s College Art Association conference in New York, lent some insight and reflection on the progress of this ever-in-the-making collection catalogue that the Walker Art Center is in the midst of producing.

My session itinerary included presentations related to digital publishing, to new new media and social networks, to archiving contemporary art, and to performativity (a catalogue “chapter” we’re now composing).

Some notes:

-Are We Standing at a Digital Divide in Art Publishing: On the topic of online vs. print publishing, eastofborneo.org founder, Thomas Lawson, presented the collaborative art journal/multimedia archive; Chad Coerver, Director of Publications, Graphic Design, and Web at SFMOMA (a fellow Getty OSCI grantee) talked about the making of their online catalogue of Rauschenberg holdings, asking what it means to show artworks that were never meant to be shown this way, what we can do online that we cannot do in print, and the challenge of publishing to user platforms that continue to change; Art Journal’s Editor-in-Chief, Katy Siegel, unveiled their new website and noted, in her discussion of the nature of changing scholarship, the increase of submissions that veered from traditional essay formats—more interviews, panel dialogues, collaborative discussions, etc. (as Jerry Saltz put it: “we already have the one speaking to the many, but I’m also interested in the 5,000-headed beast, the many speaking to one another”).

eastofborneo.org

Critical Histories: Regarding the influence of contemporary art writing on contemporary art history, Artforum’s Tim Griffin raised the question of how publications resist reinforcing clichés and stereotypes, Thomas Crow spoke on the critic’s acceptance and legitimacy within the academy (on the contemporary becoming a subject of art history as bound up in the evolution of art criticism), and Carrie Lambert Beatty responded to the critic/historian dilemma (critic’s lack of perspective and historian’s not in the moment) by proposing a scholarship “aware of its adjustments but isn’t obsessed with the next best thing.”

Oral Histories & the Archive: With the rise in video and audio recordings used to relay a moment in history or to document and conserve artworks, presenters (including Ann Butler on the Art Spaces Archives Project (AS-AP), Michelle Elligot on MoMA’s Oral History Project, and Sandra Q. Firmin on the exhibition Artpark: 1974–1984) addressed how this media can expand—discursively, qualitatively—on what is found in traditional archival documents. Interesting remarks were then brought up about the framing of these recordings (cameraperson’s perspective, off-camera prep, re-takes, interview questions, etc.), the interviewee’s editorial influence, and—as these first-person accounts are made public by art institutions— the treatment of factual discrepancies.

Art Spaces Archives Project

Globalization: Iftikhar Dadi critiqued how non-western cultural practices have been represented in exhibition contexts as if smoothly translated into a globalized world to evince a false structure of integration that isn’t calculable under such terms. Dadi recalled Andreas Huyssen’s studies on globalization as contributing to a total change in the art history of modernism (reminding that “there’s no such thing as ‘art’ itself – it only has meaning through its legitimization by institutions”). In the Q&A, there were debates on the possibilities of comprehending third languages inherent to translation, of meta-world-art historical narratives and universalities, and of clear concepts existing through infinite voices and architectures of open-endedness.

Re-curating: New Practices in Exhibition Making: With endless ways to show an artist’s oeuvre, a curatorial penchant for re-curating exhibitions has brought new perspectives on original presentations. Leigh Markopoulos from California College of the Arts cited the example of last year’s traveling retrospective exhibition of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Specific Objects without Specific Form that was installed in each of six venues according to how various invited artists were influenced by Gonzalez-Torres’ work; Reesa Greenberg referred to Alexander Dorner’s and El Lissitzky’s flexibleAbstract Cabinets (1926-28) to illustrate her point about history not occurring in discrete temporal moments; Shannon Jackson presented her experience of Rimini Protokoll’s Call Cutta in a Box performed in various cities (including Minneapolis last Fall), asking what it means to re-curate the event (and in this case, the people) according to the epigenesis of these projects migrating through different contexts and to experiences of intercultural travel and politics.

Live Art/Museum Object: Relating to the development of our online catalogue chapter on performativity (which includes in-depth research on artworks by Tino Sehgal, Yves Klein, Helio Oiticica, Eiko & Koma, and Trisha Brown), in Kaira Cabañas’ talk, Exhibiting the Invisible, she critiqued art institutions’ depiction of ephemeral and participatory works, focusing on Yves Klein’s Le Vide (1958); Matthew Breatore’s talk, The Live and the Archive: Methods of Display of Performance Re-creation addressed the conservation of performance through documentation as re-performance by discussing Marina Abramovic’s work in the Guggenheim’s Seven Easy Pieces (2005) exhibition; and in Yasmil Raymond’s talk, Collecting Situations: Repetition, Habit, and Presence as an Institutional Model, she spoke about works by Franz Erhard Walther and Tino Sehgal in support of museal formats transitioning from spaces of permanent containing to those of permanent becoming.

Parallel Practices: When the Mind isn’t Focused on Art : After a couple of days spent listening to people read papers about performance, a highlight was walking into this packed and swelteringly hot conference ballroom to experience Janine Antoni’s enactment of the movement meditation, 5Rhythms. Rather than just tell in words what she does while not in the studio, Antoni clipped a mic to her tank top, stepped in front of the table of six presenters, and performed her dancing flow throughout the aisles, responding in motion to our bodies in the space. Unfortunately I missed Vija Celmins, Petah Coyne, and Robert Gober’s presentations (coming in there a little late after starting to nod off in the session downstairs on Copyright), but did listen to Philip Taafe talk about the time he spends walking through the streets, preferring the live present, taking in expressions. He mentioned that lately it’s become a much stranger experience for him as most who pass by are with their heads down talking or typing on their iPhones—Taafe doesn’t have a cell phone or computer—and ended by asking, “what happened to learning how to use scissors instead of punching keys.”

Could be an interesting question for one of our next online catalogue chapters…

Walker+Getty+Helio Oiticica, Katharina Fritsch, Tino Sehgal…

This month in Artforum, Irene V. Small writes on the ashes of Helio Oiticica’s estate, recalling the recent fire in Rio that burnt hundreds of the artist’s works. As conservators assiduously recuperate the remains, and as plans are made to recirculate Oiticica’s work—as work reworked—throughout the international art world, Small critiques the decency of doing […]

This month in Artforum, Irene V. Small writes on the ashes of Helio Oiticica’s estate, recalling the recent fire in Rio that burnt hundreds of the artist’s works. As conservators assiduously recuperate the remains, and as plans are made to recirculate Oiticica’s work—as work reworked—throughout the international art world, Small critiques the decency of doing so. Given the nature of Oiticica’s practice, and of his interest in co-participation over display, alongside decades of controversy over how art spaces construe his work, the writer points out in paraphrasing Brazilian press and bloggers, perhaps “the fire had ‘liberated’ the artist’s ideas from their material cage.”[1]  Though an unsurprisingly matter-of-fact reaction for many who know Oiticica’s work well, an ever-crucial concern persists here that reckons with both the economic and academic transpositions of contemporary art over the long term. In particular, what Small questions is how the reconstruction attempts (i.e. using the late artist’s digital archive to produce new iterations of his work) will work out, and whether these ethics of reincarnation bode well for the future of contemporary art archives.  It is one thing for Oiticica’s work to be experienced, as his friend Haroldo de Campos wrote, “as something open, as something unstructured, as something susceptible to manipulation, to intervention,”[2] but on behalf of the archivist as well as the spectator? The fate of contemporary artists’ archives is no entirely new topic, but it does remain an urgent one (while especially so considering the age of the 50s and 60s generation) that an increasing amount of cultural producers are deeply involved with.  

At the Walker, as we get closer to the actual making of this Getty-funded collections project (OSCI), designing something along the lines of what ArtsJournal’s Tyler Green referred to as a “21st-century collection catalogues on steroids,” we’ve deliberately started looking at a few artist works in our permanent collection that complicate this endeavor, with a recent acquisition of Oiticica as just one example. The selected works bring a sort of institutional critique to the “scholarly” project that keeps its integrity in check. For it is easy enough to compile compelling material to include in the catalogue, but how to present the content appropriately (and considering our resources, how to present it practically), is another issue, whether it’s around the oeuvre of a deceased artist, or in Katharina Fritsch’s case, singularizing a multiple, or with Tino Sehgal’s work, figuring out how to be extensive—or not—over an artist so evasive. And then there’s that vexing question (that keeps popping up in my inbox) of what contemporary arts research really is…and what kind of a history of the field we are defining as our arguably premature historicization of it means its immediate (re)institutionalization.[3]

But aside from obsessing on these anxieties too much, the Getty group (now including Joe King, Associate Registrar, and Lisa Middag, Director of Publications) has indeed made some good strides since the confab in LA last December. No OSCI meeting at the Walker is complete without the usual rumination around the purposefulness of this project, however, out of these conversations, we have alas arrived at some decisions. For those following the project, my last blog posting featured a bulleted list of synoptic  inquiries that were brought up across the nine institutions, a few of which we now feel more composed to answer: it is a restaurant, not a grocery store; contributions to scholarship will supersede attempts at fullness, and likewise forego redundancies; the audience is firstly assumed as those studied in contemporary art; content will be commissioned from in and out of the institution; the move towards online publications is not foreseen as a total replacement for print catalogues.  There are still several issues that are in discussion and at this point remain tbd, including the extent of interactivity, thematic structures, the scope of artist works to be ultimately profiled in October (and then beyond), design, and the maintenance involved in longevity. 

In the next nine months of “planning phase,” all of these points continue to be addressed, but in accordance with a revised timeline: from now through April is essentially research and content analysis stage (which so far entails works by Helio Oiticica, Katharina Fritsch, and Tino Sehgal). May through July is when design-mockups will occur. During the subsequent three months, from August through October, we will consider the future of permanent collection research at the Walker by assessing the acquisitions work-flow.  At long last, in November, the “realization phase” shall begin.

And that is the updated scoop from the Getty group.

More on Helio Oiticica’s CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress; Katharina Fritsch’s Rattenkoenig, Modell (Rat King, Model); Tino Sehgal’s This Objective of that Object next time.


[1] Irene V. Small, “Material Remains,” Artforum (February 2010), 95-96
[2] Haroldo de Campos, “Hangliders of Ecstasy,” in Helio Oiticica (exhibition catalogue). Paris: Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, 219
[3] For a full-fledged scrutiny of the term, “contemporary art history,” see the questionnaire in the Fall 2009 issue of October, including texts by Alexander Alberro, Okwui Enwezor, Grant Kester, Pamela Lee, and Anton Vidokle.

Walker + Getty, part II: Amped up after a Couple of Days in LA

Following up on the mid-November blog posting, which introduced the new Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) at the Walker, is a report from our big meeting at the Getty Center last week where all of the grantee institutions convened. In attendance were Andrew Blauvelt (Design), Robin Dowden (New Media), Betsy Carpenter (Visual Arts), and myself, […]

Following up on the mid-November blog posting, which introduced the new Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) at the Walker, is a report from our big meeting at the Getty Center last week where all of the grantee institutions convened. In attendance were Andrew Blauvelt (Design), Robin Dowden (New Media), Betsy Carpenter (Visual Arts), and myself, together with teams from 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. 

Perhaps it was the sunshine, sea air over Santa Monica, and thereupon sun-kissed skin that left us giddy after the OSCI event adjourned last Wednesday, but I’d like to think that we were all just really delighted by what dialogues ensued in and around the Getty Research Institute. Not to say that after two days of presentations and conversations (one of which being the need for a more desirable project title – ideas welcome), the group’s ideas about online collections catalogues weren’t slightly more mangled than they were going in. But in a good way. Getting down to it, here are some of the issues we all worked with:

  • Grocery Store or a Restaurant? To start, this question coined by Mr. Blauvelt was quickly taken up and re-posed by many during the meetings, referring to how the OSCI would exist beyond being a compendious repository. How the OSCI envisions itself as a venue in the service of preparing its content for users’ varied preferences, and emphasizing the author’s subjectivity, while dynamically switching up the menu from time to time, seemed an issue canopying many of the other conversations. 
  • Completeness: Would the OSCI strive for comprehensive information on all entries? Or will it preference select contributions to scholarship, assuming that the more general information (i.e. tombstone data) is retrievable easily elsewhere (i.e. Google searches, or the good old-fashioned library)? Dubious sentiments were exchanged about the end-goal of making an online so-called “catalogue” when the term wontedly implies, what Tate’s Head of Collection Research, Jennifer Mundy, had described as an “intellectual cul-de-sac.” The online cataloguing project is thus seen as a more thoroughgoing collections project—one not reduced to records, lists, brief synopses, and thumbnail images.
Betsy Carpenter and Andrew Blauvelt presenting to the OSCI group.

Betsy Carpenter and Andrew Blauvelt presenting to the OSCI group

 

James Davis, Online Collections Editor for Tate Online

James Davis, Online Collections Editor for Tate Online

 

  • Audience: Who is the OSCI’s public?  As LACMA’s manager of Art & Education Systems, Diane Folsom, scrolled down a list that included undergrads; PhDs; collectors; artists; journalists; dealers; smarties; art tourists; librarians; conservators; professors; museum staff, she emphasized the need for audience analysis (and ultimately user testing) in order for the OSCI to meet the expectations of whom it serves.
  • Writing style: Dependent on the articulation of audience, the OSCI must decide what tone the language of the site and the incorporated texts will take on. Are artist work entries introduced with a précis followed by a list of more academically-written texts? In these longer texts, must conclusions be front-loaded and must headings be mandatory to be sufficient for the average web user who is accustomed to scanning content and skipping around screens? If so, this presupposes a writing style that many of the proposed authors may not be used to, or even prefer to employ.
  • Authorship:  The contributors would not only be those on the OSCI team, but cross/extra-institutional as well, global and motley. Page-count is not a concern for the OSCI, so a multitude of authors could potentially write for one artist’s work. This means an interesting mix of varying subjectivities, perhaps leading to well-substantiated contradictions and interesting reader response.  Meaning is multi-vocal, multi-disciplinary, complex and contingent. And the extent of elaboration within each entry begins to map axial changes in interpretation over time.  
  • Interactive engagement: Who is directly responsible for caring for readers’ comments? Whenever the Getty group’s discussion touched upon these types of interactive features, this question continuously arose. How often, or under what circumstances will curators be able to reply to reader response? Also, while inviting remarks to entries, how will the institution preserve its integrity in furthering knowledge in the field of contemporary art through balancing the engagement of user comments with “experts’” perspectives? The National Gallery of Art’s curator, Arthur Wheelock, Jr., expressed concern over an influx of misinformation being generated by too much interactivity, in emphasizing the institution’s responsibility to guide dialogue on the art in its collection and meet some criteria of accuracy.   
  • Online research: In answer to the professor’s raised eyebrow upon mention of citations to “online research”—as much online content on culture sites is geared towards mass appeal and typically associated with pop culture— the OSCI responds by puncturing this stigma. Critical texts are written by curators, archivists, or conservators, as well as commissioned by relevant savants, and as just mentioned above, much of this information could be complemented by readers’ posted submissions as well. This process marks the enacting of a new approach to art history via the web—one that indicates historical shifts through a platform of diverse voices, and also incorporated audience feedback, and through more transparent idea development (for example, by gradually stacking edited texts atop one another verses replacing them). In order to validate the “legitimacy” of this online source information, the group put forth one option of a universal footnoting and reference system that the academy might approve of.
  • Rights and reproductions in the electronic age: For this topic, the Getty had Maureen Whalen, Associate General Counsel for the J. Paul Getty Trust (their legal expert) present. She talked about issues such as current practices for posting images online, Terms of Use governing access to online resources, the nebulous implications of “fair use,” living artists’ copyright concerns, and varying copyright formalities for non-U.S. works. Whalen also addressed problems involved with posting comparative illustrations of artworks owned by other museums and private collections, and potential problems involved with the liability of publicizing all that’s communicated in oral histories (i.e. interviews).
  • Hierarchy of information: What gets headlined? Through design and the organization of content, whether reflected in publications or online, the institution makes clear how it feels about the documents it holds. But different from its print counterpart, the OSCI permits a new degree of flexibility in altering what artists or authors, for instance, might be foregrounded verses what remains appendixed.
  • Longevity: Who manages the OSCI? Who selects the artist works to be featured, interviews artists, digs through the archives, writes the texts and edits them, is responsible for database entry, functionality, and so forth? What departments of the institution are intimately involved with the project? What collaborative partnerships with other institutions might enrich and help to sustain the project?
  • Greater impact: Beyond the cultural and academic impact, what is the demonstratable economic and social impact of the OSCI? In one case, to help address this question, the Seattle Art Museum has created an advisory board composed of community members and figures abroad so that their ideas don’t exist in an institutional vacuum.
  • “The end product”: What does the OSCI’s “success” entail?

Breakout sessions on these topics—entitled “Audience and Writing,” “Sustainability,” and “TMS and Beyond”—turned into intense conversations that piqued everyone’s reassessing sense of their own stake in the OSCI undertaking. As the rooms heated up with varying opinions around some of these considerations, what seemed decidedly consensual was the impossibility of defining an umbrella system for the Initiative (though some systems of standardization, such as citations, will likely be inevitable). What approach may make sense for an institution taking up specialized research on Monet may not jibe with one’s multi-disciplinary investigation of the Camden Town Group’s social and cultural resonance. Nonetheless, the epiphanies and kinks of each institution’s project development will continuously inform one another’s throughout. 

After a few days passed to let the Getty gathering all sink in, Betsy, Robin, Andrew, and I met to revisit some of the questions raised by our colleagues. Before really delving into the project though, a cardinal question remains—for a collection like the Walker’s, one that consists of some 12,000 works, how do we begin making a handful of initial selections for the OSCI (and how many can we take on in the near future)? More on this next time.

Los Angeles, Getty trip, December 2009 014

Fun in the sun: Betsy Carpenter, Brooke Kellaway, Robin Dowden, and Andrew Blauvelt.

Walker+Getty

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.