The Research Catalogue: Art Preservation as Publishing
In recent years, art preservation initiatives have begun adopting the medium of research catalogue to support their mission. The catalogues usually come as public websites providing expert knowledge about selected artworks, along with detailed documentation and views from their creators. Among the latest examples are Net Art Anthology, an online retrospective of net-based works created by New York-based Rhizome between 2016-2019, and Digital Canon, an online catalogue of historical digital artworks from the Netherlands, launched by LIMA in 2019. Unlike austere online presentations of collection databases, they stand out as research publications, attentive to the context of presented works, open to multiple perspectives and informed by conservation scholarship. While the two initiatives aim at elevating important but overlooked works to the attention of museums, they were preceded and paralleled by similar museum research projects. Among others, INCCA, Tate, ZKM, Guggenheim, New York University and Getty’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) have recently created diverse knowledge bases, scholarly catalogues and living catalogues. They often result from in-depth practice-based research, providing case studies of restaging changing artworks and pursuing dilemmas inherent to their conservation. This contrasts with the fact that collections as a whole are reluctant to communicate practical knowledge about artworks, mainly for their commitment to confidentiality. What are the stakes of opting for a research publication as a way to communicate the otherwise “behind the scene” of art preservation?