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Forum: February Apollo

2 February 2014

Have traditional museum and exhibition catalogues had their day?
Below is an extract from Apollo’s Forum in the current February issue, in which Nik Honeysett and Mark Polizzotti debate the issue.

Launched in October 2009, the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalog Initiative (OSCI) is partnered with eight other US museums, its mission to help institutions make the transition from print publishing to multimedia, web-based publications. Although the aim is a worthy one – to dramatically increase access to collections, and for free – is this at the expense of the traditional printed catalogue? Do museum catalogues still have a role to play in our multimedia age, or have they had their day?

YES: Nik Honeysett, Head of Administration at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The odds are against the long-term survival of print, and traditional museum and exhibition catalogues are no exception; it is less a question of if but when, and to what degree. The nature of scholarly research is changing, and so is consumer expectation – anything you can get in the analogue world, you can get in the digital world…

We are entering a world of choice, and museums will be tasked with providing choices. Consumers are picky and scholars are no different; they will want access to academic research as part of a museum’s online collection, appended to individual works, either published online or as a downloadable app or ebook.

NO: Mark Polizzotti, publisher and editor-in-chief at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York

… let’s not count out the printed catalogue quite yet. Even though digital technology provides a thrilling new alternative, there are still things the old workhorse can do better. For one, unlike the quick, informational nature of digital reading, the printed page offers the opportunity for a more ruminative synthetic absorption of the author’s words and thoughts. The search functionality of the digital catalogue makes it ideal for object-related research. But art is a story, and stories are best told with context, and the time to savour it.

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