Museum Index - The museum in numbers

Museumindex. Part of The Collection Now. Photo Peter Cox
Museumindex. Part of The Collection Now. Photo Peter Cox

Museum Index The museum in numbers

02/11/2013 - 17/12/2017
Curators: Christiane Berndes, Galit Eilat, Charles Esche, Diana Franssen

part of The Collection Now

How much information lies concealed in the numeric details of an art collection? The Van Abbemuseum invited the Dutch designer Joost Grootens to visualise this information. Grootens is known for the lucid way he makes complex information visually attractive and accessible. 

The first results of his work are on show on the second floor under the title 'Museum Index'. You can see which works are featured in the exhibition, which are on loan to other museums and what the value of the works is. This opens a new and unexpected perspective on the collecting policy and on the actual presentation of the collection.

“How much is this painting worth?” is undoubtedly one of the commonest questions asked of the museum’s guides. An almost endless list of questions occurs to us all when we walk around a museum. Which works have travelled the most, and where to? What is the proportion of work by national artists compared to foreign artists?
Many of these questions can be answered by extracting the information from the collection database. By making this information explicit, and by supplementing it where necessary, we can discover structures, arrive at new conclusions and insights, form opinions or take decisions.

This is not the first time the museum, with the help of designer Joost Grootens, has rendered the available information into infographics, and then displayed the results together with the art. The new display is a sequel to this, and instead of depicting the information as abstract icons it now uses images of the actual works of art. New visualisations will be added in the course of time.

Background Museum Index

The Museum Index research project began in 2010, introduced by (guest)curator Galit Eilat during the collection-based Play Van Abbe exhibition. It presented a graphic overview of all the works in the collection. Each work was denoted by a symbol indicating its category –  painting, sculpture, photograph, drawing or other graphic work, video or installation – together with a symbol for whether the work was made by a female artist, a male artist or a collective. Subsequent graphics gave information about the nationality of the artists, classified by their land of birth, and a review of the least expensive and most expensive acquisitions per year together with their current insured values. This form of quantitative research was also applied in a study of art, now present in the collection, that had been looted during World War II and  presented in a small display in one of the museum spaces. The Museum Index project took place in collaboration with students at the University of Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Maastricht University.

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