SFMOMA Receives $375,000 from the Getty Foundation to establish comprehensive web resource for study of Robert Rauschenberg

Sean Martinfield, Arts Contributor

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has been awarded a $375,000 grant from the Getty Foundation for the implementation of its first online collection catalogue, featuring works by Robert Rauschenberg in the museum’s permanent collection. The grant supports further work on the Rauschenberg Research Project, the digital publication SFMOMA is developing for the Getty’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI), an effort dedicated to bringing museum collection catalogues into the digital age. Scheduled for launch in mid-2013, SFMOMA’s catalogue promises to be the largest and most comprehensive repository of Rauschenberg research available online, and will serve as a vital and highly accessible resource for the field.

Robert Rauschenberg. Collection, 1954–55. Oil, paper, fabric, wood, and metal on canvas

Robert Rauschenberg. Collection, 1954–55. Oil, paper, fabric, wood, and metal on canvas

“We are very grateful to the Getty Foundation for their generous support of SFMOMA’s Rauschenberg Research Project,” says Sarah Roberts, SFMOMA associate curator of collections and research. “Our online Rauschenberg catalogue will serve as a testing ground for the museum’s ambitious digital publishing objectives and will have global reach, both as a resource for future scholarship and as a dynamic, new model for museum collection catalogues in the digital era.”

While printed versions of scholarly collection catalogues have long been a critical part of museum publishing programs and a key resource for researchers, their high production costs and small print runs have hindered accessibility and made revised editions extremely difficult to realize. The OSCI project aims to transform how museums disseminate scholarly information about their collections, exploring the potential for catalogues to be more current, interactive, and widely available in an online environment. Three years ago, the Getty Foundation invited nine institutions, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, to work together to investigate this new frontier in scholarly publishing with the support of planning grants. SFMOMA received $240,000 to participate in the planning stage and now has been awarded $375,000 to bring its online catalogue to completion.

SFMOMA’s publication will present a seamless blend of rigorous scholarship and multimedia resources, encompassing nearly 90 Rauschenberg sculptures, paintings, works on paper, photographs, and “combines” (hybrid works of painting and sculpture). The catalogue will bring together existing materials drawn from the archives of SFMOMA and other institutions, as well as new content from ongoing research initiatives, such as visual documentation done with highly specialized technology (e.g., infrared or custom digital processing) that capture the exceptionally nuanced imagery of the artist’s works.

The publication will include 20 essays dedicated to individual artworks or series; bibliographies, provenance, exhibition histories, and conservation research for all objects; as well as artist interviews, interactive educational features, comparative images, and links to related resources. SFMOMA has commissioned leading experts on Rauschenberg as authors for the catalogue, including:

· Nicholas Cullinan, curator of international modern art at Tate Modern, who has written a book on the artist’s photographs
· Susan Davidson, senior curator of collections and exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, who sits on the board of the Rauschenberg Foundation and has produced numerous exhibitions and publications on the artist, including the 1997–98 retrospective that she organized with Walter Hopps
· Roni Feinstein, who produced a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s silkscreen paintings for the 1991 Whitney Museum exhibition
· And many others who have researched, written, or organized exhibitions on Rauschenberg

In addition to presenting deeper and richer content, the online catalogue will employ various technological solutions stemming from the OSCI project. New systems for documentation and digital publishing are redefining how information related to the collection is generated, collected, and published. These processes will allow for the publication to be integrated into a variety of digital platforms, and established templates will easily accommodate future research projects around other areas of modern and contemporary art. Ultimately, the Getty Foundation grant will make possible a new model for collection publishing that will disseminate scholarly material in innovative and accessible ways.

Technology at SFMOMA

The development of the online catalogue furthers SFMOMA’s commitment to online culture and technological advancement, and to fostering meaningful dialogue with audiences. Reflecting the Bay Area’s renown for pioneering new technologies and ways of thinking, SFMOMA is widely acknowledged as a leader among museums worldwide for using technology to engage visitors, both onsite and online, through such projects as its award-winning website, innovative podcasts, multimedia gallery tours, and more recent mobile apps. SFMOMA has consistently forged new models of museum education by developing in-house expertise in rich-media tools that enhance public understanding of modern and contemporary art.
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