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11 tips for cataloguing art collections thoroughly

A digital catalogue offers many advantages: securing and easily managing your collection data, publishing and expanding your collection at any time. Find out how to make the most of these advantages for your collection here!

Tip #1 Start now

Digitizing your complete collection data and transferring it into a digital catalogue can seem intimidating because it sounds like a lot of work! That makes it all the more important not to wait any longer, but to get started now! Whether you want to create a new collection, a catalogue raisonné or transform a printed catalogue into a digital catalogue raisonné, we can advise and support you in cataloguing your collection. 

Tip #2 Get an overview of your collection

Every collection of artworks and every artist's estate has its own peculiarities. It is therefore very helpful to get an overview of the scope and the complexity of the collection before starting the cataloging process. To many collectors, an Excel list may initially seem sufficient to capture all the basic information about their artworks. But as a collection grows, the requirements often change. The larger the collection, the more difficult it becomes to keep track of everything. In addition, topics such as loans, insurance or provenance become more important. And if you want to publish information about your collection, you need a suitable platform that allows you to do so. The first step should therefore be to get an overview of the size of your collection and determine which goals you are pursuing by cataloging your collection. 

Tip #3 Choose a suitable software

Once you know the scope of your collection, it's time to choose a software that is flexible and can be adapted to the needs of your project. It should be intuitive to use and allow you to export or publish the data obtained. What sounds complicated and time-consuming at first is usually easy to manage with modern software solutions these days. Whether you want to record just a few works or an extensive collection, Navigating.art provides you with all the features you need for a digital catalogue as well as digital archive solutions. Navigating.art combines important features in just one platform: compiling comprehensive art information, creating new insights and presenting it all elegantly. When choosing the right software, make sure you are provided with all the features you need to best capture your collection and eventually present it to the public. 

Tip #4 Take high quality photographs

It is highly recommended that you select high resolution images for your catalogue, with a true color reproduction. Especially if you want to make your digital catalogue accessible to the public, e.g. for researchers, or export selected data from your collection for sales lists or work overviews, then an excellent photo quality is essential. It is therefore worthwhile to photograph each work in suitable quality right from the start, so that all the data you need for your successful collection management is available when required. 

Tip #5 Invest time for the data input

Building a catalogue can require a lot of time, depending on its scope. In addition to basic data such as title and year of origin, all existing work information should be recorded in the catalogue. This includes, for example, the exhibition history, the provenance, the condition, the current storage location of an artwork and its mention in publications and sales catalogues. Therefore, it is important to invest enough time to record all available information and to add updated information to your catalogue entries as needed. Only in this way will your digital catalogue become a valuable contribution for researchers and the public. 

Tip #6 Use standardized vocabulary

When it comes to the input of your data it is important to use a uniform vocabulary for the description of certain information. Data such as artist names, objects, materials, publications and others should always be entered in the same way. The Navigating.art platform facilitates the entry of your data through automatic rendering. Thereby, your entered data will be automatically adapted to a uniform spelling, e.g. the Chicago Manual of Style.  

Tip #7 Create a hierarchical structure 

For each archival holding, there exist several hierarchical levels to structure the existing resources, i.e. via Collections, Series, Files and Items. Thus, a collection can contain different series and these in turn can hold different Files and Items. Creating an hierarchical arrangement of these categories allows you to relate individual artworks as two parts of the same series, the same exhibition, or to connect them to a publication in which these are mentioned. Assigning a collection item to one of these categories helps you understand and organize the structure of your collection. 

Tip #8 Add additional information

Once the basic data of an artwork has been entered, it is time to document more information like the provenance and exhibition history to complete the entry. The more complete an entry, the more helpful it is for research. For this purpose, the Navigating.art platform offers the possibility to enter all existing information about the artwork and its background. For example, the participation of an artwork in an exhibition, its mention in a publication and its provenance including past sales or offers at auctions can be entered. To complete the entries, even essays related to the artwork can be uploaded.

Tip #9 Share your collection

After putting a lot of work into gathering all the existing information about your collection, you can make your information available to the public. With Navigating.art, for example, you can decide whether you want to publish all the information or only a selected part. The publication of your data is especially beneficial for other researchers, e.g. when the information they are looking for can easily be found online and does not have to be requested in person at an archive or collection administration. 

Tip #10 Link your data

Especially when you decide to publish your catalogue, it is important to have reliable information. With the Navigating.art platform, records, digitized archival material and external content can be linked in order to provide evidence-based conclusions. For example, an artwork can be linked to a publication in which it is mentioned or illustrated. Also, the artwork can be linked to an exhibition in which it was shown. Or a link can be created between an artwork and an institution or a collection in whose possession the artwork has been in the past. This way, the existing connections between an artwork and a publication, an auction, an exhibition or another artwork can be indicated and traced more easily. 

Tip #11 Create Reports

If you need specific information from your collection, e.g. for sales lists or inventory overviews, or if you like to create a report of either selected artworks or your entire collection, then it is a benefit to be able to create these overviews without much effort. The Navigating.art platform allows you to create reports and overviews with just a few mouse clicks, whenever you need them. Moreover, you can specify individually which information the reports should contain.