Peter Klubek, Reference and Research Services
Edith Garland Dupré Library, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
The Morgan Library and Museum's Betye Saar: Call and Response is a freely accessible on-line exhibition featuring the story of the artist's work as told through a series of sketches and sketchbooks used throughout her creative process. The online exhibition does not require users to establish an account or download specific software. It is easy to navigate with clearly placed buttons and directions on each page for viewing.
The landing page of the museum exhibition--currently scheduled to be open to the public from September 12, 2020, to January 31, 2021--prominently displays a high-quality image from one of the notebooks (Fig 1), as well as a link to the online exhibition Due to pandemic related closures/limited accessibility, the landing page includes a brief video overview of the exhibition, with an introduction to the artist’s life, career, and explains that this show was put together in close collaboration with the artist herself. This page also includes a PDF of labels for individual photographs and works that make up the show, as well as an explanation of how the exhibition was conceived and sponsored.
From here users are invited to experience the Betye Saar online exhibition, which can be found by clicking on a large button in the center of the exhibition’s main page labeled, “Explore the exhibition,” or by selecting the online option from the Exhibition drop-down menu in the Morgan’s main navigation bar. Once in the online exhibition, users are presented with an installation shot from the exhibition, as well as a photo of Saar in her studio. On the left side of the page, there is a grey box with thirty-seven options for users to explore the exhibition. Choices range from gallery images to links for individual art objects, to sketchbooks that make up the bulk of this exhibition. At the top of the page, under the title, there is an audio link that plays a recording from Colin Bailey, the director of the Morgan Library and Museum. The message welcomes users to the exhibition and provides additional information on how to listen to recorded interviews and comments from Betye Saar. This allows visitors a unique opportunity to hear directly from the artist on her own work.
The virtual exhibition is well thought out and thoroughly presented. The images, photographs, and digitized sketchbooks, in particular, are all made available through the use of the highest level of digital scanning technology. The images are clear and it is easy to pick out the details and notes that the artist has made while working on individual pieces. Unfortunately, it is not possible to click on individual images or zoom in on some of these areas. This feature would have added another dimension to the virtual delivery. However, the number of photographs and scans offers viewers an extensive background on how this artist is thinking about her work. This is demonstrated in each photograph of finished artwork and the accompanying sketch for that artwork (Fig 2 and Fig 3). When this exhibition was displayed at LACMA, their website discussed similar themes, but the virtual presentation offered through the Morgan Library and Museum is more comprehensive and allows users to engage with the exhibition at a time when in-person viewing may not be possible. This grants users an excellent resource on an artist that has not been extensively documented.