Digital Collections: Museums and the Information Age

Keene, Suzanne
New York: Routledge

Published in 1998, Suzanne Keene’s book Digital Collections addresses the impact that the developing Information Age might have on the museum industry. Most significantly, Keene recognises the potential of the World Wide Web to transform it. ‘We used to build collections of objects,’ says Keene, ‘now we can make collections of information, too.’ It is easy to see the evidence of her prediction that digital collections are of huge importance to museums. In fact, it is near impossible to justify not having a web presence these days—not being present on the web renders an institution nearly invisible. Although the museum standard software and equipment that she explains and advocates for is now out-dated, her insightful theory about building digital collections of information is still relevant. Many museums today are struggling to keep up and to make their collections available through technology, but more and more of these institutions are recognising the value of ‘virtual visitors’. Keene suggests that digital access to collections provides less inhibited access to the actual collection and the information that is usually obscured by being in storage where it is recorded on index cards and records, and only mediated via the caretaker in charge of the collection. Ultimately, Keene explains that digitizing these records makes the collection more accessible to a wider audience, and thus, more useful.

Shelby Lakins


Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving Art

Schaffner, Ingrid
Winzen, Matthias
Passau: Passavia Druckservice

Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art, edited by Ingrid Schaffner and Matthais Winzen, was published in 1998 in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at MoMA PS1 and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. While storage and archiving remain practical and logistical issues for contemporary art collections, this book addresses how these acts became part of artistic practice in the twentieth century. Shaffner and Winzen compile a number of brief entries, organised alphabetically by artist or theme, giving the book the appearance of an archival index. In these entries, twenty-five authors write about more than forty artists and topics including ‘cyberspace,’ ‘Rauschenberg,’ and ‘Warhol’ to illustrate how acts of collecting and storing have become artistic processes and endeavours, more than means to preserve traditional artworks. These examples range from material collecting to digital storage and electronic media. Each example encourages the reconsideration of what constitutes art and artistic practice in a contemporary context.

Anna Blaha

Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory

Rinehart, Richard
Ippolito, Jon
MIT Press

In this collection of essays, Richard Rinehart and John Ippolito raise various technical and philosophical questions regarding the feasibility of preserving new media art in the long-term. Bringing to the fore the institutional, practical and lawful “triple-threat” that is giving rise to “the death of contemporary culture”, the writers discuss a wide range of issues that are enabling the deterioration of new media and installation art in archives and collections today, and thus obstructing the capacity for future generations to appreciate these works. In the face of the rapid obsolescence of formats and softwares that are relied upon by much video and virtual art, Rinehart and Ippolito suggest a radical reassessment of conventional preservation methods, throwing away with default old media storage strategies in favour of audio-visual emulation and hardware migration. Similarly, they examine how legislation surrounding intellectual property and copyright may simultaneously aid and impede access to online art forms in a world seemingly governed by social media and the ‘sharing’ of content. Perhaps most prominently however, the main concerns of this publication are the implications for “social memory” that these practical issues raise. In centuries to come, what will be said for the art of today if contemporary culture refuses to safeguard against its own destruction? It is therefore imperative that the documents of our digital age remain intact, with these institutional revisions ultimately being presented as crucial moral responsibilities for contemporary art collections of the twenty first century.

Aaron Shaw