During the academic year 2015-2016, our Parisian team has been collecting information on exhibitions that took place in the Arab World, from Morocco to Iraq, between 1900 and 1990.
Since Spring, 2016, we are transcribing all the information found in the catalogues of the Alexandria Biennial, the Paris Biennale, and the Kassel Documenta in BasArt—Artl@s’s database of worldwide exhibition catalogues. As we go, we are testing the user’s interface to improve its performance. We are also geolocating the addresses found in the catalogues, even if they have disappeared !
We are proud to be part of this collaborative project that already proved its usefulness for research, and is contributing to decentering Art history and opening new research fields. If widely sampled, geographically and over time, and entered into the database, exhibition catalogues have the potential to unlock a previously hidden world of exhibitions and cultural exchange on a global scale - a project we are working on this year, while mapping exhibition in North Africa and the Middle East from 1900 to 1990, and tracing the circulations of artists and artworks in the 20thc. Mediterranean space. Exhibition catalogues also help study very qualitative elements in art history on a broad scale, such as the titles of artworks over time, or how artists presented their own biographies, when and how performances first appeared in Biennials and evolved, etc… Catalogues can also help discover global social trends (e.g. networks of masters and pupils, or the evolution of women presence in exhibitions, etc. )... They represent enormous data sources which were not originally designed/generated/collected for research purposes, but can be used to analyze artistic and historical trends and linguistic changes that have rarely been addressed on such a large spatial and chronological scale in the humanities.