Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Olga's Gallery: Individuals creating collections and content on the web

Olga’s Gallery is an interesting private attempt to create an encyclopedia of art and art history. The site is not for profit, although there are advertisements in the top margin of each page and there are links that take a visitor to a commercial website such as for the purchase of posters and prints seen on the Olga’s Gallery page and has around 10,000 images.
The about page is a series of letters describing the creation and purpose behind the site. It is run by two sisters and their sons and was developed specifically for post-secondary teaching and education, although no credentials past the saccharine testimonials of the sites creator’s sons to the authority regarding the metadata, essays, and artist biographies exist.. Of course “art lovers” are welcome to visit and participate and they seem to be the audience this site will most useful to. All the images are available for non-commercial, education, and fair use under United States copyright laws. The text is protected as a creative work and may not be used without express permission from the website owners and designers.
The collection focuses on western European styles and artists. It is primarily paintings, but there are a few sculpture images included. There is no information about where the original of each digitized image came from, which means there is little consistency in the size and quality. There are thumbnails and large views for each image, but no zoom capability. The most interesting part of this site is the metadata and the biographies that constitute the original portions of the site which seems sprung from a desire to make the site seem professional and academically authoritative.
The metadata assigned to the thumbnails includes artist name, creations date, material (marble or oil, opposed to sculpture or painting), and a location. The location is a bit unclear if this where the piece was created or where it now resides. For certain images there is a “more” hyperlink that provides one of the site’s mini-essays. This includes a brief paragraph on symbolism, mythology, or other influences in the piece, a bibliography including other pieces which have similar themes or motifs and contemporary artists, and artist biographies. All the essays are written from a very classical position with heavy emphasis on history beginning in ancient Greece and ending in Italy sometime in the 1800s.
There are six ways to search the collection; by artist alphabetical; by country, again whether this is the place of origin for the painting, artist, or where the physical piece is now is unclear; by movement; and by a general in-site search engine. The site is outdated looking, but the search function for the site is unusual in how broad the results are. A search on the term “Cana” retrieved 21 relevant pages. These include painting titles with the word in them, the short essays, and variations on works names such as Giotto’s The Wedding Feast at Cana and The Wedding Feast at Cana and the Deposition of Christ; one of these is the painting and the other the essay but both can be found on the same page. this seems redundant but I could see that this would be useful for people who have a an interest in learning basic or beginning associations in and about European art.
This is not the most well-built collection or the most interesting collection scope choice, but I am still interested in looking for private non-profit websites that try to display art and images in a way that makes the most sense to the site designer. How we think about a collection of images is changing and how individuals tackle the idea of contributing to general data and information through the Internet from an art historical perspective is something worth considering. These are people with low budgets and little training who have still managed to get thousands of images and millions of visitors on their websites no matter how bizarre their perception of history may be.

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