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A second concern arises from the publication of exhibition catalogues before the events they describe. As aresult, the content of the book is uninformed by the exhibition itself. Exhibition catalogues generally comprise two parts: a setof essays aimed at a wide audience and addressing overarching themes, and a catalogue of the exhibited work, which is primarilyfor specialists. Except for the organizing curators, who have scoured collections in selecting objects to exhibit, most bookcontributors compose their texts without benefit of studying the work firsthand. The entries, having been written before theexhibition is assembled, cannot capture the important insights to be derived from comparative study of the works nor reflect thevaried expertise of academics, curators, conservators, frame experts, and other specialists that the museum convenes.

The catalogue would be more useful if updated to reflect new information and insights developed over the courseof an exhibition. Electronic publication offers a flexible format suited for the iterative thought process exhibitions set in motion.The pre-exhibition book might be accompanied by a digital extension on a museum website that serves as a portal for scholarshippertaining to the exhibition. The website could accommodate ongoing cataloguing, provide an interactive space to discussexhibition-related issues, and allow curators and academic art historians to exchange their specialized knowledge. Thewell-trained scholars who work as curators are often frustrated by the limited opportunities they are afforded to pursue seriousresearch. Museums invest heavily in exhibitions. These investments should be capitalized on by taking greater advantage of theexhibitions as sites of research and expanding the participation of curators in scholarly endeavors. Online publication could supportthese goals and take advantage of the considerable expertise in image display and analysis developed by museum education and designdepartments.

It should be acknowledged that museums already foster scholarly and intellectual exchange in various ways.In-house curators frequently engage guest curators and catalogue contributors from the academic community. Exhibition andinstallation planning grants of the kind provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Federation of the Arts rely on close cooperation between host museums and external curators and scholars. This kind of productive exchange frequentlycontinues during the run of the exhibitions or on the occasion of reinstallations. Well-resourced museums from the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum to the Clark Art Institute and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum hold scholars' study days in the galleries and present public symposia, often organized incollaboration with neighboring academic institutions or in-house research centers. Publication of these events tends to be limitedto the symposia though, for the very good reason that not every observation or comment in an informal gathering of scholars needsto be recorded. Nevertheless, the wonderful opportunity of seeing normally dispersed objects in close proximity, for a sustainedperiod and often together with colleagues from the academy, museum, and conservation worlds, might lead to more dynamic forms ofpost-exhibition publication.

Models for publication of sustained scholarly discussion of conservation and exhibition projects exist, but suchpublications are extremely rare. When museums and scholars manage to produce them, the publications have great potential to becomeauthoritative reference works and records of new thought. In 1998 the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) mounted the exhibition Jackson Pollock: A Retrospective . This was followed by the publication in 1999 of a book edited by the show's curators andwith a significant focus on new findings produced during the exhibition.

Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel, eds., Jackson Pollock: New Approaches (New York: MoMA, 1999).
In 2000, MoMA published a compilation of interviews, articles, and reviews aboutPollock, edited by one of the curators.
Pepe Karmel, ed., Jackson Pollock: Interviews, Articles, Reviews (New York: MoMA, 2000).
A delay of just one or two years for such exhibition-related research isremarkably fast. On another front, for the past few years, an international group of curators, conservators, and scholars havebeen engaged in regular discussions of the cleaning and restoration of Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise . These consultations and shared viewings, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation , are helping shape an exhibition of some of the restored panels in 2007,curated by the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence, and publication of the results of these cooperative studies isintended.

In conclusion, the pre-exhibition book is an indispensable form of communication, but it might be still moreuseful if recognized as a starting point rather than a culmination of research, as it now aspires to be, and if it were part of anexpanded portfolio of exhibition-related publications in print and electronic format. The goal is to develop other publication genresand formats that take advantage of the exhibition itself and materialize during and after the exhibition to harvest anddisseminate its significance.

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Source:  OpenStax, Art history and its publications in the electronic age. OpenStax CNX. Sep 20, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10376/1.1
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