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BasArt is a collaborative database of exhibition catalogues from the 19th century to the present day. It is in open access, available to all, through a simple mapping and statistical interface that facilitates global research. Its aim is to gradually decentralize the sources available to researchers, thus decentralizing their focus often too centered on Europe and North America.

Why Exhibition Catalogues?

Exhibition catalogues have been a major primary source for art history since their invention in 1673.

An exhibition catalogue gives – or claims to give – information on the existence of an exhibition, its address, dates, title; it lists the artists who participated in a given exhibition and often the works they displayed. Catalogues are thus a rich source of data – wether social, commercial, geographical or even political: artists’ addresses, citizenship, gender, places of birth, names of their masters, names and addresses of their dealers and collectors, places where works are stored, sometimes their prices; titles can reveal recurring patterns or themes. Catalogues are sometimes accompanied by critical texts, illustrations and reproductions, or even advertisements.

A Long-Term Collaborative Project

In 2009, when BasArt was launched, there was a real need for a global, spatial and centralized database of exhibition catalogues: the Getty Provenance Index Sales Catalogues covers auction catalogues from 1650 to 1945, while art magazines are already the subject of numerous databases.

From 2011 to 2016, with the support of the French Agence nationale pour la Recherche (ANR), ENS, PSL, Labex TransferS and Purdue University, the Artl@s team began building an integrated PostGIS geodatabase that records, standardizes and stores information contained in exhibition catalogues.

The structure of the database allows all forms of catalogues to be processed – knowing how much this literary form has evolved over 2 centuries. Whatever the language, the date all the addresses of the catalogues are geo-referenced, so they can be mapped. The database was put online in 2016 and put into public access in June 2018.

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