The J. Paul Getty Trust 2014 Report

The Getty Foundation
Deborah Marrow, Director

The Getty Foundation fulfills the philanthropic mission of the Getty Trust by supporting individuals and institutions committed to advancing the greater understanding and preservation of the visual arts in Los Angeles and throughout the world. Through strategic grant initiatives, it strengthens art history as a global discipline, promotes the interdisciplinary practice of conservation, increases access to museum and archival collections, and develops current and future leaders in the arts. It carries out its work in collaboration with the other Getty programs to ensure that they individually and collectively achieve maximum effect.


The Getty Foundation has a thirty-year history of creating grant initiatives that address pressing challenges facing the visual arts around the world. From support for scholars after the fall of the Berlin Wall to conservation training for museum professionals across sub-Saharan Africa to rescuing the archival record of modern art in Los Angeles, Foundation grants have advanced the understanding and preservation of the visual arts.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s OSCI Catalogue.More recently, as the publishing world increasingly moved online, the Foundation recognized that the transition would be especially difficult for art museums. Many museums were interested in reconceiving their collection catalogues in the digital age, but they were uncertain how to proceed. The Foundation saw the opportunity to magnify the impact of individual grants by working closely with a group of museums and created the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative.

Museum Collection Catalogues
Sharing the knowledge that results from research about its collections is a critical component of a museum's mission. Until recently, the most common form of dissemination of that knowledge was a collection catalogue in the form of a printed book—often a large, heavy tome. Based on meticulous research by experts in art history, collection catalogues are essential tools for curators, conservators, educators, and ultimately the public. The information in a museum catalogue is used constantly by museum staff members when planning permanent collection displays, special exhibitions, conservation, or interpretative materials. In short, the scholarship contained in these catalogues informs every activity that ultimately reaches a museum's public.

Yet printed volumes are expensive to produce, and their content is limited by the cost of a fixed number of printed pages, leaving much useful information on the cutting-room floor. And since study continues even after the publication is printed, the books begin to become out-of-date soon after they hit the shelves. It takes years, or even decades, before an updated volume can be produced, and therefore any subsequent discoveries must wait an equally long time to be shared with the public.

Digital publishing presents a powerful and dynamic alternative to the static, printed page. In the online environment, museums can offer deeper and broader content with the flexibility to add new research or new acquisitions without delay. Information can be tailored to the needs of varied audiences and reach virtually unlimited readers around the globe. Online catalogues can also directly link the reader to a wide array of primary and secondary resources, from archival materials and conservation documentation to multimedia or interactive content. They can be read anywhere in the world by general or specialized audiences on a variety of devices, from desktop computers to tablets, smartphones, and in-gallery kiosks. These catalogues combine all of a museum's activities, from curatorial and conservation to education and new media. They are the new public face of the institution.

What is OSCI?
OSCI is the acronym for the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative. Realizing the exciting potential of online publishing and the particular challenges facing museums in this arena, the Getty Foundation together with the Getty Museum launched OSCI in 2009 as a new grant initiative. The goal of OSCI was to completely rethink the museum collection catalogue for the digital age, working collaboratively with a group of art museums to encourage the transition to online publishing. After extensive review of the field and consultation with experts both within and beyond the Getty, the Foundation chose eight museums and awarded them grants to plan and implement model online catalogues. The Foundation selected these particular museums because they had a strong commitment across staff departments to exploring new forms of publishing. They also represented a diverse range of institutional missions and collection types, including objects from different time periods and places, and thus were dealing with a wide array of issues.

The partners in the OSCI consortium include: the Art Institute of Chicago; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA); the Seattle Art Museum; the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Washington, D.C.); Tate (London); and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis).

Collaboration is Key
Although each participating museum developed a project based on the nature of its own permanent collection and institutional values and priorities, the consortium worked collectively from the start. Among the first tasks for the group was to define the elements of a scholarly catalogue in an online environment and to determine how they would differ from a print version. A consensus was reached following a lively discussion during an initial meeting hosted in Los Angeles by the Foundation. The group agreed that the basic scholarly elements of the printed volume were of the utmost importance, but that an online catalogue offered many more opportunities.

Multilayered interactive image. Pictured: Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926). The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. Oil on canvas; 75.8 x 102.5 cm (29 13/16 x 40 5/16 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.439"As we looked at the definition of a scholarly catalogue, we understood that there are serious scholarly components one expects to see—provenance, bibliography, and exhibition history," said Gloria Groom, David and Mary Winton Green Curator of nineteenth-century painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. "We wanted all of that to be present and at the same time to rectify the unfortunate inadequacies of print publications, including a lack of comparative illustrations and conservation documentation."

The group decided that a snapshot of a catalogue on a website (a PDF) would not suffice; an online catalogue had to take advantage of new technologies, such as interactivity and multimedia content.

The benefits of this collective approach to problem solving were immediately apparent at the first group meeting. Therefore the Foundation continued to take an active role by bringing together grantees at decisive moments in their catalogues' development to identify central issues and to develop plausible solutions. Between meetings, each institution undertook the research, conservation analyses, and development of technical requirements that would underpin its individual catalogue. Throughout the initiative, the OSCI museums supported one another as they jointly explored fresh, engaging ways to deliver content and the technological solutions required to enable them to do so.

View of the Walker Art Center’s OSCI publication. Image courtesy Walker Art CenterThe collaborative spirit of OSCI allowed the partners to tackle other big issues together. The group recognized that digital publishing needed to be flexible and capable of working with existing systems used to manage their collections and websites. They agreed that their online catalogues would be made available free of charge to everyone. They considered legal issues and the difficulty of securing image reproduction rights for online use, a particularly complex problem for art-historical publications. And all of these discussions and decisions occurred during a time of constant technological change—for example, iPads did not exist when the initiative began.

The OSCI collaboration has also had an impact on the organizational culture of the participating museums. It was clear from the beginning that the projects would require broad-based participation within each museum; it isn't enough to have just one enthusiastic staff member on board. Success means complete commitment across the institution from director to curator, publisher, conservator, educator, and technologist, among others. With so many people involved, staff found it critical to communicate across departments frequently and to be transparent about the process.

"To effectively publish and promote digital scholarship requires the participation of a whole host of departments traditionally seen as unrelated to the task. That meant a lot of new workflows and communication strategies, and even some rejigging of the organizational chart," said Chad Coerver, chief content officer at SFMOMA. "But the happy outcome was that those new collaborations made many staff feel much closer to the core mission of the museum. That's always a good thing—both for them and for the museum."

Catalogues for the Twenty-First Century
As they worked together, the OSCI teams developed a clear vision of the potential that computing and internet technologies offered for their online publications. They could update their catalogues easily, adding new research without having to wait years for the next print edition. Global audiences could engage with the latest scholarship unfolding thousands of miles away. Readers could zoom into high-resolution images of artworks in unprecedented detail, as if examining them under a microscope. They could compare multiple images simultaneously or slide their cursor over an image of a work of art to reveal what is below the surface. Video and audio clips could bring the voice of the curator, conservator, or even the artist into the space of the catalogue. Researchers could take notes in the margins and store them for later use or post comments for discussion with other scholars. External readers could leave comments to communicate with museum staff.

However, complex technical problems had to be solved before the new catalogues could become reality. The consortium had to figure out how to pull information from multiple formats and various locations both inside and outside the museum, and bring them into their catalogues. They had to learn how to make different software systems "talk" to one another. And given the varied nature of their collections and institutions, the framework had to be flexible.

Three Models Emerge
After working individually and collectively, three online publishing models emerged from the OSCI cohort reflecting the different institutional values and technological capacities of the participating museums.

The first model produces online catalogues that have the look of a book and are accessible on a variety of electronic devices. Some museums wanted their OSCI catalogues to retain the aesthetics of a printed page and to occupy a distinct space on their websites separate from other collection information. The Art Institute of Chicago's Monet and Renoir online catalogues are an example of this approach. To carry out their vision, the Art Institute turned to the IMA Lab (the technology arm of the Indianapolis Museum of Art) to develop the underlying technology that would allow them to gather information and combine it in their chosen format. Ultimately, this work led to the creation of a "tool kit" that other members of the consortium could use to meet their own needs. OSCI partners LACMA and the Freer and Sackler Galleries subsequently adopted this approach.

The second model produces a catalogue that is closely integrated within a museum's website. Some museums preferred to incorporate their online catalogues into their existing web pages, redesigning the website as necessary to accommodate scholarly essays and other information. The National Gallery of Art, SFMOMA, Tate, and the Walker Art Center chose this approach, finding it flexible in producing a variety of formats with different looks such as a magazine might have. As with the first model, this approach is more suitable for large museums with in-house technology departments, given the technical expertise needed to adapt web publishing for scholarly uses.

The third model produces catalogues that build on existing collection management systems. Although it does not offer quite as many features as the other two models, it is a cost-effective and less technically complex solution for small and medium-size museums. The Seattle Art Museum chose this route, working with the company that produces The Museum System (TMS), a widely used museum collections management system, to adapt the software for online publishing.

OSCI Toolkit
The OSCI Toolkit is an open source, non-proprietary software that is freely available to the museum community. It was developed as a result of the work between the Art Institute of Chicago and the IMA Lab, with support from the Getty Foundation. The toolkit allows catalogue editors to electronically gather all of the deep content one expects in a scholarly catalogue from multiple sources and customize it, choosing from a range of features. Additional grants from the Foundation are allowing the IMA Lab to expand the software so it can be adapted by other museums and more easily used.

"LACMA both uses and contributes to the ongoing development of the OSCI Toolkit. For example, this year we anticipate making key contributions to the tool that allow us to add rich media conservation assets," said Amy McCabe Heibel, vice president of technology at LACMA. "We are strong supporters of an open source approach to museum software development, enabling shared solutions amongst institutions so that we can all advance together our ability to create and disseminate information about the collections we steward."

Screenshot of the National Gallery of Art’s OSCI publication showing image comparison tool.The OSCI Toolkit is an attractive choice for museums because it has been designed specifically for easy use by curators, editors, and publishers. For example, curators writing catalogue entries feel like they are working within a common word processing program. The OSCI Toolkit's multimedia viewing tool allows conservators to show changes to works of art over time, as well as multiple views of objects in different lighting conditions. Because the OSCI Toolkit is open source software, easily accessible to computer programmers, other museum technologists can contribute additional features as they wish. And the OSCI Toolkit is the only solution from the consortium that allows museums to publish their content in multiple formats and on multiple devices: as an eBook for the Kindle or iPad, on an iPhone, or as a downloadable PDF.

The Publications
All of the following OSCI catalogues are available online free of charge; they may also be accessed through the Foundation's website.

  • The Art Institute of Chicago
    Monet and Renoir Paintings and Drawings

    The Art Institute of Chicago's collection of Impressionist art is among the best in the world, and for OSCI the museum chose to focus on their paintings and drawings by Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The team decided to place particular emphasis on conservation documentation in order to make this critical information available for the first time online in innovative viewing formats. The Art Institute commissioned the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) Lab to create a "toolkit" that can pull data from a variety of sources for use in the catalogues.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
    Southeast Asian Art at LACMA

    Focusing on highlights from the museum's fine collection of Southeast Asian art, LACMA's catalogue uses the OSCI Toolkit first developed for the Art Institute of Chicago. New interpretive essays form the centerpiece of the catalogue, and they are enhanced with high-resolution images, conservation documentation, videos, maps, and photographs that visually connect the museum's objects to their place of origin.
  • National Gallery of Art (NGA)
    Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century

    The NGA chose to adapt and significantly update the existing print catalogue of its renowned seventeenth-century Dutch paintings collection for online publication. First published in 1995, the print catalogue was both out-of-date and out-of-print. The OSCI publication is the first release for NGA Online Editions, an ongoing effort that will provide access to the most current in-depth information on the Gallery's collections along with smart tools for citing, comparing, sharing, exporting, viewing, printing, and storing texts and images.
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
    Rauschenberg Research Project

    SFMOMA's catalogue provides access to the equivalent of more than six hundred printed pages of new research, vibrant illustrations, and multimedia content about the American artist Robert Rauschenberg. Users can watch video clips of the artist talking about how artworks were created, view annotated images that show how the artist altered some of his most famous pieces after they were initially exhibited, and read curatorial documents that were previously difficult to access, such as detailed correspondence revealing the artist's secret "recipe" for tinting collaged fabric.
  • Seattle Art Museum
    Chinese Painting and Calligraphy

    The Seattle Art Museum houses one of the premier collections of Chinese art in North America, but prior to OSCI the material had not been studied in depth and was largely unpublished. The new online catalogue contains a detailed assessment of each object, including the translation of inscriptions and seals, as well as new photography, in-depth comparative research, and essays from experts. The zoom function provides visitors with astonishing visual detail of these difficult to view scrolls, and users have the ability to create their own collections of favorite works.
  • Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries
    The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book: The Gerhard Pulverer Collection

    The Freer and Sackler Galleries' catalogue builds on the recently acquired Gerhard Pulverer Collection of Japanese illustrated books, one of the most important collections of these handmade works of art. Their publication focuses on artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), whose work had a dramatic influence on European and American modern artists. Among the unique features of the catalogue is a "digital study room" that allows readers to save their annotations, searches, and favorites in their own password-protected part of the site. Collection material is searchable in English and Japanese.
  • Tate
    The Camden Town Group in Context

    Tate's OSCI publication is about the British Post-Impressionist circle known as the Camden Town Group, a collection of Britain's leading modernist artists whose work is an important visual expression of modern urban life in turn-of-the-century London. Tate's catalogue brings together a broad range of scholarly materials about this group, including detailed entries for individual works of art, contextual essays, conservation analysis, and primary source documentation, such as artists' correspondence, sketches, film clips from the period, and even audio files of popular music hall songs relating to depictions by the Camden Town Group artists.
  • Walker Art Center
    Living Collections Catalogue: On Performativity (Volume I)

    The Walker's first release in its new Living Collections Catalogue, On Performativity, is an original exploration of performance-based work in the museum's collections, including unique pieces commissioned by the Walker, and its relationship to the visual arts. The volume features new essays by leading scholars that integrate video, audio, still images, and archival material. Foundation grant support also extended to forthcoming Volumes II and III.

What's Next?
Together the OSCI partners have vastly expanded the potential of museum collection catalogues. They are making comprehensive information about works of art available in innovative formats that are freely accessible over the Internet, reaching the scholar as well as the interested public. At the time of publication of this report, OSCI catalogues from all of the partners will be released. Going forward, each of the participating museums is committed to the continuing production of online collection catalogues, and several have other online publications in development. As Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota predicted several years ago, "The future of museums may be rooted in the buildings they occupy, but they will also need to address audiences across the world. Institutions that respond to the opportunities of the Internet will be the ones that have the authority in the future."

Now that the OSCI catalogues are published and accessible, the task is to make them more widely known within the museum field. To that end, grantees and Foundation staff members have been actively presenting the results of OSCI at museum conferences. Select presentations can be viewed online via the Foundation's website In addition, the Foundation issued an interim OSCI report in 2012, and a final report will be published in 2015 following the conclusion of the initiative.


In addition to OSCI, the Foundation is engaged in other efforts to support "digital art history." This term has become shorthand for the application of computer technologies to the history of art. This year the Getty Foundation launched a new grant initiative to support art historians as they explore the novel opportunities and challenges that are offered by digital technologies. The latest tools and techniques allow researchers to handle large volumes of data (both images and texts), trace patterns and connections formerly hidden from view, recover the past in virtual environments, and bring the complex intricacies of works of art to light as never before.

At present, only a small number of art historians have the necessary skills and experience to utilize the new technologies. Therefore, the first phase of the Foundation's new initiative focuses on training in order to increase the number of knowledgeable art historians. We began in 2014 with grants for summer institutes at Harvard, George Mason University, and the University of California, Los Angeles, designed to prepare art historians to work with digital technologies. More than fifty scholars, librarians, and technologists participated in the three programs. Ultimately, the initiative will expand to include support for research and publication projects that break new ground in the use of technology to facilitate art historical research.

For further information about OSCI and the digital art history initiative, visit