A number of art museums have been revitalizing their websites as they begin to realize what a powerful tool they are for public relations, as well as for their theoretical mission of education.
Not all can aspire to the gold standard set a few years ago by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but many museums are doing a creditable job of not only showcasing the museum but making large portions of their collections available online in searchable form.
While many museums are still clueless, going to the trouble to catalog their collections in online databases, and then providing less than useful images at small sizes (likely out or misguided or misinformed notions about copyright), some are doing it right.
As a case in point, Indianapolis Museum of Art — who I applauded in 2011 for presenting their excellent collection in a well organized and attractive website — has just unveiled a new show-them-how-it’s-done online collection search and browsing feature.
The initial page for the collections comes up with a simple search box. My one small complaint is that the page I find most useful to search from doesn’t come up until you’ve done a search, so I like to initially hit the search button with an empty query to get to this page.
From there, you can sort into collections on the left, as well as maker, material, object type and technique. I found the collections of American Painting, European Painting and Prints & Drawings especially fruitful. The museum’s collection is strong in American art in particular.
In Prints & Drawings, you may want to limit by material (e.g. watercolor). In all searches, you may find it helpful to use the “Has Image” filter at the top of the page.
There is also an entry point for browsing the collection.
The images are presented in zoomable versions, which can be viewed fullscreen, making the zoom feature actually useful. Those in the public domain have download arrows. You need to click on one of those silly “use” disclaimers, but I’ve gotten more tolerant of those under the heading of (“if it makes them feel better about putting large versions of public domain images online, fine”).
Many of the images are available in high resolution, allowing you actually appreciate them in a way that the tiny web images offered up by some museums don’t allow. (Most of the detail crops I’ve provided for the example images above are not even at full resolution.)
The Indianapolis Museum of Art has impressed me enough with their online presence that I have added Indianapolis to my list of places I’d like to visit, just to see this collection in person.
(Images above, with details: William McGregor Paxton, T.C. Steele, Willem Kalf, Robert Henri, Jacob van Ruisdael, Gilbert Stuart, Camille Pissarro, William Merritt Chase, Edmund Charles Tarbell)