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Ever wander through a museum and fantasize about organizing your own exhibition, rearranging a gallery, or putting together all the artworks you love most into one room? A new tool developed by the Hyundai Project at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) allows you to imagine what this might look like. With Collator, you can compile and publish your own book (or catalogue, if you will) of artworks from the museum’s permanent collection.
Currently, the website offers 1,002 artworks to choose from, though the greatest challenge may be that you must narrow your selection down to just 24 works. One image occupies each page, and perhaps the most fun to be had is in making unusual pairings and associations across LACMA’s vast, encyclopedic collection. According to LACMA Publisher Lisa Mark, Collator features artworks from all of the museum’s curatorial departments, which range from Korean Art to German Expressionism to Art of the Ancient Americas.
“We … wanted to bring some of the customization that one sees with online publishing services like Blurb and Milk to bear on museum publishing,” Mark told Hyperallergic in an email. “The reason we are able to accomplish this now, at this particular moment, is that digital printing has finally gotten to a point where the quality is on par with the exhibition catalogues we produce using an offset lithography process.” The museum has even used the service to print catalogues for its own collection-based exhibitions. To LACMA’s knowledge, they “are not aware of anything similar in the museum field.”
Collator allows you to search through the artworks according to “most favorited,” “artist,” and “title,” as well as via individual artworks’ tags. However, it’s unfortunate that when you click on an image, it doesn’t offer up much more information than artist, title, and date, and so is a missed opportunity to educate users or link back to the museum’s online collection database. This exclusive focus on the images, out of context, is a bit reminiscent of a Pinterest board, where you can drag the things you like into one space.
That said, there is still something thrilling about making your own physical book, for which you can dedicate and write your own introduction. The project reminds me of Maira Kalman’s book My Favorite Things — inspired by her personal curation of objects from the Cooper Hewitt Museum — in which she illustrates a disparate array of objects that each brought her “a gasp of delight.” I followed a similar principle in my own search, like when I came across James Ensor’s ethereal 1888 etching of stars in a cemetery and a magnificent mid-16th century headstone in the form of a turban.
For those who are looking for a more scholarly experience, LACMA curators have also compiled their own Collator books in the “Curated Titles” series, which feature essays by curators and artists. These include a book on German Expressionist posters and one on 27 Los Angeles photographers.
According to Mark, the idea for Collator came to be when LACMA’s director, Michael Govan, “had a desire to rethink the traditional museum handbook, to put the selection process in the hands of our visitors.” As new books are printed, the museum is bound to gain new insights into the works that speak to their visitors.