13 December 2013

Juxtaposition, choice, and a wonderful resource

The Tate Debate entry on "How do you organise your collections" contends that organising in a strictly chronological manner - as they have for the rehang of the permanent collection at Tate Britain - "offers a more neutral way of looking at the collection." (In my editing days, we would have had to be specific about the comparison: "more - than what, exactly?" ... but let's leave semantics aside for now.)

In the sidebar, highlighted in purple, is a link to the "art and artists" section of the website, where you can "Explore the Tate collection online. See and learn about over 70,000 artworks."
Online, what a variety of approaches to the 73,442 (at time of writing) artworks are given! First, random selection - the header picture can be changed by clicking on "show me another". (Great for playing "name the artist", a highbrow alternative to playing solitaire.) (And very addictive - does it show all works, or merely a subset? How long would it take to find out?) The information given is Artist, Title, Date.

You can search - for artist, title, subject, medium, etc.

You can browse: by artist, category, style or -ism, subject, gallery, context.

Then, there are a variety of ways to "explore art" - at time of writing these are highlights of Tate collection; ghosts; abstract expressionism; sunbathing; surrealism; philip guston; theatre; bicycles.

Further information on the collections at various branches of the Tate, and on areas/subjects in the collections, appear near the bottom of the page.

Here, of course, is a kind of curation - or rather, presentation - that parallels the presentation of the artworks in the gallery. You walk through the rooms, turning your attention to this work or that; you click through the website, choosing the "space" from which you'll do so - search or browse, for example.

Either way, you choose what to look at - but behind that is someone else's choice, an informed choice - informed no doubt by criteria which I (in my half-educated confusion) know not of, but the ones that come to mind for a "real" display are value of the artwork (in historical or educational terms, as this is a museum/gallery), importance of the artist or the particular painting, the need to have a balanced or representative display, or to give lesser known works some "air time". Or to give the public their favourite works?

Online, choices no doubt include which works to digitise first, which ones cannot have images displayed (only descriptive information), categories or labels under which works can be found, and all the technical aspects of organising a website - including allocation of funds for running it.

All of which leads me back to the "neutral way of looking at a collection" - is there such a thing? Is a chronological display more neutral than selecting artists or styles to group together? Would alphabetical order be more neutral still? Online, is the seemingly-random selection truly random, or is the viewer subconsciously looking for a pattern? Are the "explore art" topics those most likely to be of interest, or chosen at whim? Does it matter?

I hope you'll have a look at the "Art and artists" page - it's an amazing resource.

No comments: