The Getty Foundation's Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) is a group of nine museums working together to develop models for the publication of scholarly collection catalogues in the online environment. The online catalogues, tools, and lessons that result from the OSCI collaboration are openly shared with the larger museum community. Generous support from the Getty Foundation enabled SAM to imaginatively implement this pilot project, assess every object and take new photographs, conduct in-depth research and travel to compare with like works elsewhere, and most importantly, commission essays from expert scholars, professors and curators.
The Seattle Art Museum’s Collection
The Seattle Art Museum is home to a premier collection of Chinese art in North America, which was formed largely in the twentieth century during the directorship of museum founder Dr. Richard E. Fuller (director 1933-73). Although Seattle’s Chinese collection is best known for its jades, ceramics, and later Buddhist sculpture, during the directorship of Mimi Gardner Gates (director 1994–2009) and shaped by successive curators Jay Xu, Hsueh-man Shen and Josh Yiu, the collection of Chinese painting and calligraphy grew substantially, adding important works of the Ming and Qing dynasties as well as the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
While varied in quality and modest in size, Seattle’s collection of 152 Chinese painting and calligraphy has never been studied in depth and is heretofore largely unpublished. For the first time, it is being introduced and made universally accessible through this newly developed online catalogue, which features thoughtful and provocative essays about major works by renowned scholars, with high-resolution, zoom-able images of the works of art, and thorough documentation—including transcriptions and translations of inscriptions and colophons, and seals which are transcribed, identified and located.
The Seattle Art Museum's Approach
This online catalogue is designed to facilitate scholarly dialogue. Readers are encouraged to post comments about the works of art and the accompanying essays, as well as to formulate answers to questions that we put forward under the section “Questions for Thought.”
The open-ended nature of the online catalogue represents a significant departure from the standard printed catalogue. In contrast to printed catalogues, which reflect a specific fixed moment in time, the Seattle Art Museum considers the online catalogue an adaptable document that will continue to evolve as the collection of Chinese painting and calligraphy grows. Moreover, in the future we hope other aspects of the Seattle Art Museum collection will be researched, documented and entered online to complement this groundbreaking catalogue.
After examining each painting and calligraphy with an eye to connoisseurship and authenticity, we organized the works into four groups, each of which offers different levels of information. The groups are defined as follows:
- Group 1: 18 representative paintings and calligraphy from Song dynasty to modern China, each with an in-depth essay (3000-5000 words) by recognized scholars, professors or curators.
- Group 2: 32 works, each with short essays (300-1000 words) written by promising young scholars.
- Group 3: 62 works, many of which are new acquisitions and deserve in-depth study and analyses. Essay submissions are encouraged. Thoughtful contributions will be published, and, depending on the depth of argument and quality of the work of art, the entry will be re-classified to either Group 1 or Group 2.
- Group 4: 40 works of lesser interest and questionable authenticity which we include in order to be comprehensive.
Pinyin is the preferred romanization of Chinese characters, except individuals’ names which are commonly known to be romanized in other systems—for example Wade Giles for Chang Ch’ung-ho. Exceptions also apply to terms that have become popular in the English language (per the Oxford English Dictionary), such as Taoism.
Chinese characters for names are provided only when initially mentioned in the essay. When Chinese artists’ zi (courtesy name) or hao (poetic name) is cited in quoted texts, their translations will also include the artists’ commonly known names.
Contributors to the content of the catalogue
Mimi Gates and Josh Yiu are the General Editors.
The following scholars wrote essays for the Group 1 objects: Qianshen Bai (Boston University), Richard Barnhart (Yale University), James Cahill (University of California, Berkeley), Mimi Gates, Zaixin Hong (University of Puget Sound), Yu-chih Lai (Academia Sinica), Lizhong Ling (Shanghai Museum), Heping Liu (Wellesley College), Michele Matteini (Reed College), Yao-ting Wang (National Palace Museum, Taipei), and Josh Yiu. Phil Chan (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Sonja Kelley (Maryland Institute College of Art), and Josh Yiu wrote short essays for Group 2 artworks.
Mimi Gates, Jan Hwang (former Seattle Art Museum librarian), Mark Pitner (Elmira College), Dongfeng Xu (Emory University), Pat Yao (Seattle Art Museum member), and Josh Yiu translated the colophons and inscriptions, unless otherwise noted.
Peer reviewers Joseph Chang (Asian Art Museum of San Francisco), Jan Stuart (The British Museum), and Marc Wilson (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) provided constructive criticisms and invaluable suggestions.
Interns Eunice Cheung, Xiaolin Duan, Cindy Huang, Gengwu Wang, Fan Zhe and Cheng Zhou offered ample research support and double-checked Chinese characters.
People who made this catalogue possible
Project directors Mimi Gates and Josh Yiu led a cross-departmental team in the Seattle Art Museum to conceive new ways to present and disseminate scholarly information about the permanent collection of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy. Registrar and museum database specialist Michele Miller oversaw photography and IT needs and was the key liaison to Gallery System Web Atelier. Former Digital Media Manager Debbie Fynn gave us a crash course on web technology and played a major role in defining the scope of work. Grants Officer Carol Mabbot diligently disciplined the team to keep on track and on budget. Copy Editor Sheryl Ball substantially improved the texts and tombstone information. Graduate intern Xiaolin Duan was involved with every aspect of the catalogue—from research to data entry. Elizabeth Mann photographed many works and stitched them seamlessly. Lowell Bassett, former Rights and Reproduction Administrator and Matt Empson prepared the images for publication. Curatorial Assistant Amber Khoury and her predecessor Tina Lee kept track of paperwork and contracts. Senior staff at the Seattle Art Museum who ensured the success of this museum-wide effort included Chief Curator Chiyo Ishikawa, Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman, Director of Information Technology John Kent, and Director of Museum Services Lauren Mellon.
All staff at Web Atelier of Gallery Systems worked dynamically to create the usability prototype and continued patiently to modify the first online scholarly catalogue using TMS and eMuseum, anticipating that medium and small-sized museums will benefit from their efforts in the future. Special thanks are due to Project Manager Robb Detlefs, Lead UI/UX Designer Polina Soshkina, Web Developers Alex Hoffman and Jason Hornbuckle, eMuseum Developer Kevin Arista, Programmer Simon Zeng, and Web Designers Roman Sharf and Margaret Li.
Joan Weinstein, Nik Honeysett, Anne Helmreich, Maureen Whalen and Hilary Walter of the The Getty Foundation have provided sustained support, strong encouragement, and visionary guidance throughout the process.