Reviewed August 2014
Michael Dashkin, Independent Researcher and Writer
In a July 2014 paper titled, "Preparing the Catalogue Raisonné: A Guideline for Publishing Online," Caroline Gabrielli, observed that:
"(g)reater access to content through online databases…digitizing initiatives of libraries and archival collections, and various grant programs…have seen a recent trend in catalogue raisonné projects to shift their primary publishing platform to online. If the mission of the catalogue raisonné is to preserve the artist’s legacy, and an online version has the potential to create a greater awareness of the artist, it’s difficult to ignore the value of publishing online."
Indeed, catalogues raisonnés (CR) continue to be critical resources for research collections, and while print CRs have their adherents, the electronic format is resulting in innovative platforms such as the CR of the Los Angeles print workshop Gemini G.E.L or MoMA’s complete catalogue of Louise Bourgeoise’s prints and illustrated books. Entering into this field is Artifex Press, a publishing and technology company that is committed to the CR’s importance by reconceiving it for the digital world.
In 2012, Artifex published its first two catalogues: Chuck Close: Paintings, 1967 to the Present and, Jim Dine: Sculpture, 1983-Present. Each catalogue includes a section explaining the organizational format of the catalogue and a brief introduction that addresses the artist’s biography, career, and working method. There is also a checklist of solo exhibitions and links to video and audio interviews, often accompanied with streaming video viewers. Since most of these videos are provided by third-parties (e.g.,YouTube), there is concern as to the reliability of access. Nevertheless, one gets incredible exposure to an artist’s oeuvre. The Close catalogue, for example, includes a digitized version of ”Slow Pan for Bob” (1970), a rare foray of Close’s into the film medium.
The Artifex catalogue staff includes Carina Evangelista, editor of the Close catalogue, who held curatorial and educational positions at MoMA and the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. Sara Davidson has been researching the sculptural work of Jim Dine since 2010 and has held research and directorial positions at Phillips de Pury & Company and the Marvelli Gallery, respectively.
The most compelling component of the catalogues is the page entry or record for each of the artworks. The detail photos are quite good, with surface elements of the works clearly discernable along with a number of different views of the object itself. A notes section for each art object includes its provenance, selected exhibition history, a bibliography, or what Artifex refers to as its “literature history,” and critical quotes related to the piece.
The Close catalogue currently features 141 paintings and 22 additional works in other media. Since the initial publication, the editors have updated the catalogue with works from 2013 and 2014, along with a small selection of daguerreotypes. Given that the only other complete catalogue of Close’s work is of his prints and handmade paper editions (Butler Institute of American Art, 1989), one can appreciate the immediate contribution that the Artifex catalogue makes. Artifex’s plans to expand the catalogue to include works in other media; however, it would benefit users if the editors would clarify this point given that the catalogue is, after all, titled “Complete Paintings.” The Dine catalogue is the first CR focused on his sculpture, encompassing work from 1983 through 2012, with newer works added as the editors research them, and with plans to expand the scope of this publication in the near future by including the very early sculptures of Dine’s career.
The browse interface enables users to explore the catalog through broad-ranging categories, e.g., chronology or theme. They may further refine with limits such as medium or location. Unfortunately, it is not possible to combine these limits; one can only choose one limiter from each category, e.g. “bronze” but not “bronze” AND “glass;” “Los Angeles,” but not “Los Angeles” AND “San Francisco.” But this is hardly a drawback, given the rich content provided.
Artifex’s CRs offer the flexibility and accessibility that will benefit any number of researchers and arts organizations; these resources can be regularly updated which is not a reality for their print counterparts. The platform’s mobility will, in particular, benefit those users who work across dispersed locations. The search functionality and the common user interface provides a consistent experience across the two published catalogues and those that are forthcoming, all while accomplishing the mission of a catalogue raisonnés.. Artifex’s catalogue platform promises a whole new category of accessibility, opening up an artist’s oeuvre to broad audiences across the world.