Reviewed October 2020
The Walker Center’s Living Collections Catalogue is a collection of freely accessible digital publications. Currently, four published volumes can be found on the museum’s website. All of the volumes in the Living Collections Catalogue relate concretely to objects in the museum’s collections. In the “about” information at the top of the Catalogue’s homepage, the Walker states that the content of the volumes is also meant to relate conceptually to the Walker’s acquisition strategies and institution vision moving forward. As one dives into each volume individually, one begins to see how each volume connects differently to the Walker’s physical holdings. Volumes I and II link more explicitly to the Walker’s Visual Arts Permanent Collection, while Volumes III and IV use the Walker’s archival holdings as their material basis. Volume III, in particular, stretches the definition of a collections catalogue; as stated in this volume’s preface, this is intentional, since the volume concerns itself with a class of work and a mode of artistic practice that “evade museum acquisition.” This volume gives us an example of what it might mean for the content of the Catalogue to be related conceptually to the mission of the Walker but not necessarily linked to its physical collections.
The modular design proves to be one of the Catalogue’s strengths. The first two volumes (Volume I: On Performativity and Volume II: Art Expanded, 1958-1978) were published in 2014 with funding from the Getty Foundation as part of their Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative. The museum published the next two volumes (Volume III: Collaborative Artistic Practices, 1960s-1980s and Volume IV: Creative Black Music at the Walker) this year as part of the Walker’s Interdisciplinary Initiative, which is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Interdisciplinary Initiative is an ongoing, institution-wide project at the Walker meant to feature artists working “at the intersection of the performing and visual arts.” The objectives of this initiative include developing new approaches to collecting, exhibiting, researching, interpreting, and supporting the creation of works by these types of artists; the new volumes of the Living Collections Catalogue are part of the “research” branch of this initiative. While there is no specific goal stated, one imagines that further volumes of the Catalogue will be forthcoming depending on interest and funding. The modular, volume-based design of the Catalogue allows the museum to easily add new content. The fact that the museum has gone through two rounds of publishing is an encouraging sign for the Walker’s commitment to expanding and sustaining the Catalogue.
The volume-based scheme also leaves room for differences between the volumes themselves. The navigation tools for each volume are relatively the same, so users do not have to “relearn” the interface for each volume. However, all four volumes do not look alike, nor do they follow a set template. Each volume has unique features that suit the content being presented within. Volume IV, for example, has dedicated space in each section for audio and video links; Volume IV focuses on avant-garde jazz musicians, so including performance clips from the Walker’s archives is central to this volume.
The volumes in the Catalogue most closely resemble e-books, in that the content is fixed for the user, but the dynamic interface takes advantage of the digital platform. The Walker states that they intend to revise, edit, and update the volumes as needed to reflect current scholarship, but the Catalogue has no crowdsourced element or commenting capability. This makes the volumes feel tied to the museum’s authority. The sections and/or essays in each volume are easy to cite, as the interface includes a citation generator at the top of every page, which adds to the sense that the resource is meant to be authoritative.
Academics, particularly those who study performance-based art, will likely find much of value in the Catalogue. Many of the included essays are substantial scholarly contributions to the field, and several of the volumes include digital versions of unique archival sources held by the museum. The Catalogue will likely be of most use to a scholarly audience, for whom this resource might serve as a great starting point for deeper research into any of the subjects covered.
For an art enthusiast browsing the Walker’s website, the Catalogue could potentially serve as an entry point into the Walker’s collection. Each volume points back to the Walker’s collections in its own way; some volumes feature works in the fine art collection, while others highlight archival holdings. Images of artworks in the Walker’s collection are linked to the pictured work’s object file in the museum’s online collections portal. (Unfortunately, this linkage does not go both ways, and there are no links to the Living Collections Catalogue in the collections portal.) The accessibility of the essays varies from volume to volume, but most of them would be of interest to a non-expert.