Posted on July 19, 2013 in Archive

5 reasons museums and galleries embrace digital publishing


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and nine other museums are pioneering the way for digital publishing to be used to acquaint people with more art.

The museums are working together as part of the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) to develop new catalogues that take advantage of what Internet technologies have to offer.

SFMOMA has launched the Rauschenberg Research Project, which provides museum-goers with a completely novel way of viewing Robert Rauschenberg’s latest collection.

The exciting new features of the catalogue highlight five reasons museums and galleries (and by that I mean all museums and galleries) should switch to digital publishing.

1.     Faster access to new research

As scholarship is the focus of Getty’s publications, the new catalogues include relevant recent research.

This means that scholars no longer have to wait for research papers to be printed, bound and hand-delivered by the postman; instead they can access it all with the push of a button.

An example of this from the Rauschenberg Research Project, is the inclusion of new information about the supposed inspiration for Rauschenberg’s famed Erased de Kooning Drawing.

2.     Use of multimedia content

SFMOMA’s digital catalogue capitalises on the strengths of the Internet – namely audio and video.

Instead of having to read through pages of tiny text, museum-goers can now listen to descriptions of how the artworks were made, and watch videos about the artist.

For example, SFMOMA’s catalogue includes footage of Rauschenberg describing his works in a 1999 exhibition, which provides the audience with a connection to him that wouldn’t be possible in a print catalogue.

3.     Interactivity

This point stems from the above one about the benefits of multimedia and is another fantastic example of why a digital catalogue is better than a print version.

The new SFMOMA digital catalogue allows readers to connect with the artworks on a more personal level and provides them with access to more information and detail than ever before.

One example from the Rauschenberg Research Project can be seen in his work Hiccups, which is a 62 foot long piece made from handmade paper joined by zippers.

Because of its length, there’s no way the entire piece could be visualised in a print catalogue, however thanks to the video option, readers are able to view it in lifelike detail.

4.     Enhanced conservation documentation

Museums and galleries can now include more juicy information that art and history lovers crave.

They can detail how the works were made, what conservation measures have already been taken, and what future preservation efforts can be made.

Because they are no longer restricted by a print format, they can include photographs and instructional videos to more succinctly describe this information – which is much more user-friendly than lugging around a thick booklet.

5.     Access to digital artwork

A lot of contemporary artists work with multiple media, such as music, video, and audio recordings.

In print catalogues, the most important elements of these artworks are left out and that is why SFMOMA’s digital catalogue is unprecedented.

It allows audiences to hear the audio or see the video elements.

A great example of where this is beneficial is Rauschenberg’s Trophy IV (for John Cage), which is a musical sculpture of John Cage’s work in the 1950’s and 60’s on including sound components to visual works.

Now audiences can actually hear the sound, as well as see the sculpture (I don’t need to remind you that this wouldn’t be achievable in print).

Galleries embrace digital publishing - Picture of new SFMOMA digital catalogue

SFMOMA’s digital catalogue – a breakthrough for digital publishing and the art world alike


The Rauschenberg Research Project, as well as similar catalogues created by The Tate and the Art Institute of Chicago, provides us with an insight into a new and improved museum experience.

Providing people with the opportunity to get up close and personal with art and experience it in new ways is a groundbreaking development for museums.

Publishing digital catalogues is something that all museums and art galleries need to do to keep ahead of visitors’ expectations.