More often than not, museum books and catalogs feature masterpieces—and only masterpieces. But what about the questionable pieces, forgeries, objects in unfortunate condition, or, to be frank, ones that puzzle even the most experienced experts? Aren’t issues like that just as interesting as those surrounding highly acclaimed artworks? Because of the economics of publishing, ‘coffee-table books’, as museum catalogues are sometimes known, miss out on long lists of fascinating ‘second-tier’ objects and intriguing issues that consume much of a curator’s time.
SAM is about to change all that. We’re making our Chinese painting calligraphy and holdings more accessible to the public through a new online catalogue. Under the auspices of the Getty Foundation, we’re designing new ways of presenting information about this rich but little-known collection. Just like in traditional catalogs, we’ll share relevant information about esteemed works of art. But this catalog will include much more.
SAM is one of nine museums that received 2-year planning grants from the Getty Foundation to plan for an online scholarly catalogue, with the hope of creating a new model for online scholarship other museums can follow. Our new online catalog will be interactive. Our researchers and curators will continually update information as we discover it. We’ll share ideas, hypotheses, and arguments. We may stimulate further discussions. We may stir debates.
Our new online catalog will be open-ended. Because we’re not limited by a page count, we can include more comparative images which would be too costly to reproduce in a book.
Our online catalogue will be accessible. We’ll let everyone learn about our masterpieces—as well as our problematic pieces, including those with authenticity issues. Once you hear the stories of these artworks, you’ll realize that maybe not all of them should be simply understood as fakes. Authenticity is not a straightforward issue and with our online catalog, we’ll have a forum for discussing some truly fascinating histories.
You can look forward to seeing works that have been assembled in parts, a genuine Ming painting that had later been inscribed with the name of a famous Yuan painter, and most happily for this curator, hidden treasures that have been overlooked before. While the online catalogue may take two years to complete, the establishment of this SAM Blog will allow us to send out interesting tidbits on our progress. Stay tuned.
Josh Yiu, Foster Foundation Associate Curator of Chinese Art
Top photo: The landscape painting by Lan Ying is kept in three Japanese boxes