Monday, February 2, 2009

“I paint how others write their autobiography.
My canvases, finished or not, are the pages of my diary.”

Study for a Guitar

Museu Picasso
Barcelona, Spain

The Museu Picasso consists of five buildings in Barcelona and is dedicated to the life and works of Pablo Picasso, focusing on (but not limited to) his years spent in that same city. The Digital Exhibit is small and not quite a year old, but seems as though it has become a vital way for this museum to work within itself, within the country, and with the rest of the world.

The each member of the staff at the Museu is responsible for placing the works in historical and personal context. Curatorial responsibilities are listed on the site and include “researching pieces in the collection as well as their setting and context, and relating them to the artist’s other works or works by other artists, providing expert advice to other departments on the collection,” while the duties of the conservationists include “exhaustively documenting the collection and circulating the results of the research carried out.” The website is credited to a dozen people and companies, illustrating how interconnected the work here is. The site facilitates user input and function, putting obvious links to things like copyright laws for their photographs of the artwork and allowing space for comments in English or Spanish. One can purchase museum publications online and the terms for use of publications are made explicit. The library seems to be a large part of the success of this museum, but one can not access the library holdings via the internet. You must, instead, make an appointment and physically show up in Barcelona.

The site is a mirror of the museum and not a replacement. To be fair, it was revamped in March of 2008 and promises more to come, including the catalog which “brings together the present monographic collection and exhibition catalogues as well as other documentary material in the museum library...[including] articles from our historical avant-garde magazine collection. Library searches may be done via subject keywords in Catalan and Spanish. The catalogue will soon be available online.” Though it is difficult to know if they actually are making progress for uploading this catalog, it is a great undertaking to link all of these separate reference sources well and will expectantly take some time.

This website gives a sense that one must physically experience the city of Barcelona, the architecture (which they explain in great detail on the site, outline renovations since the 12th century), the language and music and scenery to truly understand their collection of works by Picasso. The website is not just a teaser; it offers unique perspectives and experiences not found in the museum, such as the timelines of Picasso's life and of the museum's history (dating back several centuries). There is also a very cool interactive museum map which is reflective of the physical space but used on the site as more of a reference tool (there is no lack of metadata anywhere).

Currently, the online collection has only 39 works noted as highlights. Although this is a relatively small number, the process of digitizing these was done well and linked several times over to add tremendous value to such a small set. Science and Charity is an excellent example of bringing together the painting, painter, context, history, and the museum itself. There is such detail and attention to complete metadata that it seems as though there are many more than just 39 highlights on the website.

The Madman

The zoom feature is kind of strange and not very powerful, but I believe the museum wants to retain some of the mystery of the physical object as it is proudly set in Barcelona, a place they feel strongly influenced the work of Picasso.

There are links to other institutions in Barcelona and Catalonia that have some of Picasso's work, including a brief description of the connection and a link to the website. This site is packed with information and would be a great resource for anyone trying to better understand Picasso and his art.

Photo Credit: André Villers

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