2,000+ Impressionist, Post-impressionist & Early Modern Paintings Now Free Online, Thanks to the Barnes Foundation

Georges Seurat, Henri Rousseau, Giorgio de Chirico, Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh — all of us associate these names with great innovations in painting, but how many of us have had the opportunity to look long and close enough at their work to understand those innovations? To feel them, in other words, rather than just to know about them? The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has just recently made it possible for us to contemplate thousands of works of art including those of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern masters, zoomed in up close and at any length we like, by digitizing their collection and making it free online.

"Thanks to Open Access," writes Artnet's Sarah Cascone, "2,081 of the Barnes’s 4,021 objects have been published online. Of those, there are high-resolution images of 1,429 works available for download in the public domain.




It’s a big step for a museum that as recently as 1991 hadn’t published any color imagery of its holdings," due in part to the preferences of founder and "eccentric art collector Alfred C. Barnes (1872–1951), who drew up strict rules for how the museum would be run." For instance, it seems that Barnes, who disapproved of the way the early color photography reproduced paintings, felt he had no choice but to ban it in his museum entirely.

"As we were rethinking the presentation of our collection online we were considering the sensitivity Barnes had around color reproduction," writes Deputy Director of Audience Engagement and Chief Experience Officer Shelley Bernstein, "but we also had to think about the needs of today’s students, researchers, and scholars. It goes without saying that the work of other institutions  —  the open access initiative at the Met, especially  —  helped make these decisions much easier." And though the Barnes first started putting its works of art on the internet five years ago, "that last iteration of the collection online didn’t foreground the ability for users to download or share images easily."

Now, the Barnes' online collection features nearly 1,500 items free to download so far. But currently downloadable or not, everything uploaded so far appears in an easily searchable, browsable, and, most of all, viewable form. Here we have van Gogh's The Brothel, Paul Cézanne's The Bathers, and Rousseau's Outskirts of Paris, four paintings that, in many ways, look as stylistically fresh as they did when first revealed in the late 19th century to the mid-20th. The fact that 21st-century technology has made it so much easier for all humanity to see that would, one likes to think, have pleased even old Mr. Barnes himself.

Enter the Barnes online collection here.

via Artnet News

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

MIT Is Digitizing a Huge Archive of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures, Papers and Other Documents & Will Put Them Online

If you’re a linguist, you’ve read Noam Chomsky—no way of getting around that. There may be reasons to disagree with Chomsky’s linguistic theories but—as Newton’s theories do in physics—his breakthroughs represent a paradigmatic shift in the study of language, an implicit or explicit reference point for nearly every linguistic analysis in the past few decades.

If you’re on the political left, you’ve read Chomsky, or you should. Even if there are significant reasons to disagree with whatever controversial stance he’s taken over the years, few political theorists have approached their subject with the degree of doggedness, intellectual integrity, and erudition as he has. Chomsky began his second career as a political activist and philosopher in the late sixties, speaking out in opposition to the Vietnam war. Since then, he’s written majorly influential works on mass media propaganda, Cold War politics and interventionist war, economic imperialism, anarchism, etc.

Now an emeritus professor from MIT, where he began teaching in 1955, and a laureate professor at the University of Arizona, Chomsky has reached that stage in every public intellectual’s career when archivists and curators begin consolidating a documentary legacy. Librarians at MIT started doing so a few years ago when, in 2012, the MIT Libraries Institute Archives received over 260 boxes of Chomsky’s personal papers. You can hear the man himself discuss the archive’s importance in the short interview at the top. And at the MIT Library site unBox Chomsky Archive, you’ll find slideshow previews of its contents.

Those contents include the 1953 paper “Systems of Syntactic Analysis,” which “appears to be Chomsky’s first foray in print of what would become transformational generative grammar.” Also archived are notes from a 1984 talk on “Manufacturing Consent” given at Rutgers University, outlining the ideas Chomsky and Edward S. Herman would fully explore in the 1988 book of the same name on “the political economy of the mass media.” And in the category of “activism,” we find materials like the newsletter below, published by an anti-war organization Chomsky co-founded in the 60s called RESIST.

MIT hopes to “digitize the hundreds of thousands of pieces” in the collection, “to make it accessible to the public.” Such a massive undertaking exceeds the library’s budget, so they have asked for financial support. At unBoxing the Chomsky Archive, you can make a donation, or just peruse the slideshow previews and consider the legacy of one of the U.S.’s most formidable living scientific and political thinkers.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

25 Million Images From 14 Art Institutions to Be Digitized & Put Online In One Huge Scholarly Archive

Digital art archives, says Thomas Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute, are “Sleeping Beauties, and they are waiting to be discovered and kissed.” It’s an odd metaphor, especially since the archive to which Gaehtgens refers currently contains photographic treasures like that of Medieval Christian art from the Netherlands Institute for Art History. But soon, Pharos, the “International Consortium of Photo Archives,” will host 25 million images, Ted Loos reports at The New York Times, “17 million of them artworks and the rest supplemental material." The archive aims to have 7 million online by 2020.

Pharos is the joint effort of 14 different institutions, including the Getty and the Frick, the National Gallery of Art, the Yale Center for British Art, Rome’s Bibliotheca Hertziana, the Courtauld Institute, and more. Eventually “users will be able to search the restoration history of the works, including different states of the same piece over time… past ownership; and even background on related works that have been lost or destroyed.” As Artnet puts it, “art history just got a lot more accessible.”

Once the primary domain of well-appointed professors with institutional connections and the budget to fly around the world, the discipline can soon be pursued by anyone with an internet connection, though there is, of course, no virtual substitute yet for engaging with art in three-dimensions. Claire Voon explains at Hyperallergic, “Pharos’s database is primarily aimed at scholars—although it is freely available for all to use—and is dedicated to uploading a work’s attribution and provenance as well as conservation, exhibition, and bibliographic histories.” All of the information, in other words, required for serious research.

Currently featuring almost 100,000 images and over 60,000 separate artworks, Pharos contains classical and Byzantine art and mosaics from the Frick; early Christian art from the National Gallery; many photographs of Roman pottery, sculpture, and statuary from the Bibliotheca Hertziana, and much more. The Frick comprises the bulk of the collection, and the museum is Pharos’s primary partner and “home to the very first photoarchive in the United States, thanks to the initiative of its founder’s daughter.” (Most of the images currently in the Frick archive are in black and white.)

While the current institutions are all based in North America and Europe, the “database will eventually expand,” writes Voon, “to include records from more photoarchives around the world.” Scholars and art lovers worldwide may not necessarily think of these treasures as kissable “sleeping beauties,” but their plentiful appearance in such rich detail and easy accessibility may indeed seem like a fairy tale come true.

Enter the Pharos database here.

via Hyperallergic

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

New Digital Archive Puts Online 4,000 Historic Images of Rome: The Eternal City from the 16th to 20th Centuries

The poet Tibullus first described Rome as "The Eternal City" in the first century BC, and that evocative nickname has stuck over the thousands of years since. Or rather, he would have called it "Urbs Aeterna," which for Italian-speakers would have been "La Città Eterna," but regardless of which language you prefer it in, it throws down a daunting challenge before any historian of Rome. Each scholar has had to find their own way of approaching such a historically formidable place, and few have built up such a robust visual record as Rodolfo Lanciani, 4000 items from whose collection became available to view online this year, thanks to Stanford Libraries.

As an "archaeologist, professor of topography, and secretary of the Archaeological Commission," says the collection's about page, Lanciani, "was a pioneer in the systematic, modern study of the city of Rome."




Having lived from 1845 to 1929 with a long and fruitful career to match, he "collected a vast archive of his own notes and manuscripts, as well as works by others including rare prints and original drawings by artists and architects stretching back to the sixteenth century." After he died, his whole library found a buyer in the Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte (INASA), which made it available to researchers at the 15th-century Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

Enter a team of professors, archaeologists, and technologists from Stanford and elsewhere, who with a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and in partnership with Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and the National Institute, began digitizing it all. Their efforts have so far yielded an exhibition of about 4,000 of Lanciani's drawings, prints, photographs and sketches of Rome from the 16th century to the 20th. Not only can you examine them in high-resolution in your browser as well as download them, you can also see the locations of what they depict pinpointed on the map of Rome. That feature might come in especially handy when next you pay a visit to The Eternal City, though for many of the features depicted in Lanciani's collection, you hardly need directions. Enter the digital collection here.

via Stanford News

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Boston Public Library Will Digitize & Put Online 200,000+ Vintage Records

It may be a great irony that our age of cultural destruction and—many would argue—decline also happens to be a golden age of preservation, thanks to the very new media and big data forces credited with dumbing things down. We spend ample time contemplating the losses; archival initiatives like The Great 78 Project, like so many others we regularly feature here, should give us reasons to celebrate.

In a post this past August, we outlined the goals and methods of the project. Centralized at the Internet Archive—that magnanimous citizens’ repository of digitized texts, recordings, films, etc.—the project contains several thousand carefully preserved 78rpm recordings, which document the distinctive sounds of the early 20th century from 1898 to the late-1950s.




Thanks to partners like preservation company George Blood, L.P. and the ARChive of Contemporary Music, we can hear many thousands of records from artists both famous and obscure in the original sound of the first mass-produced consumer audio format.

Just a few days ago, the Internet Archive announced that they would be joined in the endeavor by the Boston Public Library, who, writes Wendy Hanamura, “will digitize, preserve” and make available to the public “hundreds of thousands of audio recordings in a variety of historical formats,” including not only 78s, but also LP’s and Thomas Edison’s first recording medium, the wax cylinder. “These recordings have never been circulated and were in storage for several decades, uncatalogued and inaccessible to the public.”

The process, notes WBUR, “could take a few years,” given the sizable bulk of the collection and the meticulous methods of the Internet Archive’s technicians, who labor to preserve the condition of the often fragile materials, and to produce a number of different versions, “from remastered to raw.” The object, says Boston Public Library president David Leonard, is to “produce recordings in a way that’s interesting to the casual listener as well as to the hard-core music listener in the research business.”

Thus far, only two recordings from BPL’s extensive collections have become available—a 1938 recording called “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy (I Like Mountain Music)” by W. Lee O’Daniel and His Hillbilly Boys and Edvard Grieg’s only piano concerto, recorded by Freddy Martin and His Orchestra in 1947. Even in this tiny sampling, you can see the range of material the archive will feature, consistent with the tremendous variety the Great 78 Project already contains.

While we can count it as a great gain to have free and open access to this historic vault of recorded audio, it is also the case that digital archiving has become an urgent bulwark against total loss. Current recording formats instantly spawn innumerable copies of themselves. The physical media of the past existed in finite numbers and are subject to total erasure with time. “The simple fact of the matter,” archivist George Blood tells the BPL, “is most audiovisual recordings will be lost. These 78s are disappearing left and right. It is important that we do a good job preserving what we can get to, because there won’t be a second chance.”

via WBUR

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Enter the The Cornell Hip Hop Archive: A Vast Digital Collection of Hip Hop Photos, Posters & More

The music and the culture of hip-hop are inseparable from the Bronx, Queens, Harlem, and Brooklyn, NY. And now that the form is a global culture that exists in online spaces as much as it does where people meet and shake hands, its documentary history may be more valuable than ever. Hip-Hop began, unquestionably, as a regional phenomenon, and its formal qualities always bear the traces of its matrix, a confluence of African-American, Caribbean, and Latin American socio-cultural experiences and creative streams, meeting with new consumer audio technology and a drive toward countercultural experiments that took hold all over New York amidst the urban decay of the 70s.

Photo by Joe Conzo, Jr.

We know the story in broad strokes. Now we can immerse ourselves in the daily life, so to speak, of early hip hop, thanks to a partial digitization of Cornell University’s vast hip hop collection. The physical collection, housed in Ithaca New York, contains “hundreds of party and event flyers ca. 1977-1985; thousands of early vinyl recordings, cassettes and CDs; film and video; record label press packets and publicity; black books, photography, magazines, books, clothing, and more.”

Photo by Joe Conzo, Jr.

While this impressive trove of physical artifacts is open to the public, most of us won’t ever make the journey. But whether we’re fans, scholars, or curious onlookers, we can benefit from its curatorial largesse through online archives like that of Joe Conzo, Jr., who “captured images of the South Bronx between 1977 and 1984, including early hip hop jams, street scenes, and Latin music performers and events.”

Photo by Joe Conzo, Jr.

While still in high school, Conzo became the official photographer for the early influential rap group the Cold Crush Brothers. The position gave him unique access to the “localized, grassroots culture about to explode into global awareness.” Cornell’s site remarks that “without Joe’s images, the world would have little idea of what the earliest era of hip hop looked like, when fabled DJ, MC, and b-boy/girl battles took place in parks, school gymnasiums and neighborhood discos.”

Another of Cornell’s collections, the Buddy Esquire Party and Event Flyer Archive, preserves over 500 such artifacts, the “largest known institutional collection of these scarce flyers, which have become increasingly valued for the details they provide about early hip hop culture.” Local, grassroots scenes like this one seem increasingly rare in a globalized, always-online 21st century. Archives like Cornell’s not only tell the story of such a culture, but in so doing they document a critical period in New York City, much like punk or jazz archives tell important histories of London, New York, D.C., Paris, New Orleans, etc.

The third digital collection hosted by Cornell, the Adler Hip Hop Archive, comes from journalist and Def Jam Recordings publicist Bill Adler. The materials here naturally skew toward the industry side of the culture, documenting its leap from the New York streets to “global awareness” and a spread to cities nationwide, through magazine photo spreads, ads, promotional pics, press clippings, and much more.

Some of these collections are easier to navigate than others—you’ll have to wade through many non-hip-hop photos in the huge Joe Conzo, Jr. archive, though most of them, like his Puerto Rican portraits and landscapes for example, are of interest in their own right. Conzo's photo journalism of the Bronx in the late 70s and 80s has all the intimacy and candor of a family album or collection of yearbook pictures—charmingly awkward, exuberant, and a stark contrast to the high-profile glamour of commercial hip-hop eras to follow.

The core of Cornell’s collection came from author, curator, and former record executive Johan Kugelberg, who donated his collection in 1999 after publishing Born in the Bronx: A Visual History of the Early Days of Hip Hop with Joe Conzo, Jr. It has since expanded to 13 different collections from the archives of some of the culture's earliest pioneers and documentarians. Hopefully many more of these will soon be digitized. But we might want to heed Jason Kottke’s warning in entering the three that have: “don’t click on any of those links if you’ve got pressing things to do.” You could easily get lost in this incredibly detailed treasury of hip-hop—and New York City—history.

Photo by Joe Conzo, Jr.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Google Creates a Digital Archive of World Fashion: Features 30,000 Images, Covering 3,000 Years of Fashion History

Both the fashion and art worlds foster the creation of rarified artifacts inaccessible to the majority of people, often one-of-a-kind pieces that exist in specially-designed spaces and flourish in cosmopolitan cities. Does this mean that fashion is an art form like, say, painting or photography? Doesn’t fashion’s ephemeral nature mark it as a very different activity? We might consider that we can ask many of the same questions of haute couture as we can of fine art. What are the social consequences of taking folk art forms, for example, out of their cultural context and placing them in gallery spaces? What is the effect of tapping street fashion as inspiration for the runway, turning it into objects of consumption for the wealthy?

Such questions should remind us that fashion and the arts are embedded in human cultural and economic history in some very similar ways. But they are also very different social practices. Much like trends in food (both fine dining and cheap consumables) fashion has long been implicated in the spread of markets and industries, labor exploitation, environmental degradation, and even microbes. As Jason Daley points out at Smithsonian, “The craze for silk in ancient Rome helped spawn the Silk Road, a fashion for feathered hats contributed to the first National Wildlife Refuges. Fashion has even been wrapped up in pandemics and infectious diseases.




So how to tell the story of a human activity so deeply embedded in every facet of world history? Expansively. Google Arts & Culture has attempted to do so with its “We wear culture” project. Promising to tell “the stories behind what we wear,” the project, as you can see in the teaser video at the top, “travelled to over 40 countries, collaborating with more than 180 cultural institutions and their world-renowned historians and curators to bring their textile and fashion collections to life.” Covering 3,000 years of history, “We wear culture” uses video, historical images, short quotes and blurbs, and fashion photography to create a series of online gallery exhibits of, for example, “The Icons," profiles of designers like Oscar de la Renta, Coco Chanel, and Issey Miyake.

Another exhibit “Fashion as Art” includes a feature on Florence’s Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a gallery dedicated to the famous designer and containing 10,000 models of shoes he created or owned. Asking the question “is fashion art?”, the exhibit “analyses the forms of dialogue between these two worlds: reciprocal inspirations, overlaps and collaborations, from the experiences of the Pre-Raphaelites to those of Futurism, and from Surrealism to Radical Fashion.” It’s a wonder they don’t mention the Bauhaus school, many of whose resident artists radicalized fashion design, though their geometric oddities seem to have had little effect on Ferragamo.

As you might expect, the emphasis here is on high fashion, primarily. When it comes to telling the stories of how most people in the world have experienced fashion, Google adopts a very European, supply side, perspective, one in which “The impact of fashion,” as one exhibit is called, spans categories “from the economy and job creation, to helping empower communities.” Non-European clothing makers generally appear as anonymous folk artisans and craftspeople who serve the larger goal of providing materials and inspiration for the big names.

Cultural historians may lament the lack of critical or scholarly perspectives on popular culture, the distinct lack of other cultural points of view, and the intense focus on trends and personalities. But perhaps to do so is to miss the point of a project like this one—or of the fashion world as a whole. As with fine art, the stories of fashion are often all about trends and personalities, and about materials and market forces.

To capitalize on that fact, “We wear culture” has a number of interactive, 360 degree videos on its YouTube page, as well as short, advertising-like videos, like that above on ripped jeans, part of a series called “Trends Decoded.” Kate Lauterbach, the program manager at Google Arts & Culture, highlights the videos below on the Google blog (be aware, the interactive feature will not work in Safari).

Does the project yet deliver on its promise, to “tell the stories behind what we wear”? That all depends, I suppose, on who “we” are. It is a very valuable resource for students of high fashion, as well as “a pleasant way to lose an afternoon,” writes Marc Bain at Quartz, one that “may give you a new understanding of what’s hanging in your own closet.”

We wear culture” features 30,000 fashion pieces and more than 450 exhibits. Start browsing here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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