Download 50,000 Art Books & Catalogs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Digital Collections

If you’ve lived in or vis­it­ed New York City, you must know the laugh­able futil­i­ty of try­ing to “do the Met” in a day, or even a week­end. Not only is the muse­um enor­mous, but its per­ma­nent col­lec­tions demand to be stud­ied in detail, an activ­i­ty one can­not rush through with any sat­is­fac­tion. If you’re head­ed there for a spe­cial exhib­it, be espe­cial­ly disciplined—make a bee­line and do not stop to linger over elab­o­rate Edo-peri­od samu­rai armor or aus­tere Shak­er-made fur­ni­ture.

I thought I’d learned my les­son after many years of res­i­dence in the city. When I returned last sum­mer for a vis­it, fam­i­ly in tow, I vowed to head straight for the Rei Kawakubo exhib­it, list­ing all oth­er pri­or­i­ties beneath it. More fool me.

Imme­di­ate over­whelm over­took as we entered, on a week­end, in a crush of tourist noise. After hours spent admir­ing sar­copha­gi, neo­clas­si­cal paint­ings, etc., etc., we had to nix the exhib­it and push our way into Cen­tral Park for fresh air and recu­per­a­tive ice cream.

Does an exhi­bi­tion check­list, with pho­tographs and descrip­tions of every piece on dis­play, make up for miss­ing the Kawakubo in per­son? Not exact­ly, but at least I can linger over it, vir­tu­al­ly, in soli­tude and at my leisure. If you val­ue this expe­ri­ence, can­not make it to the Met, or want to see sev­er­al hun­dred past exhi­bi­tions from the com­fort of your home, you can do so eas­i­ly thanks to the wealth of cat­a­logs the Met has uploaded to its Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions.

These cat­a­logs doc­u­ment spe­cial exhibits not only at the New York land­mark, but also at gal­leries around the world from the past 100 years or so. In a recent blog post, the Met points to one such scanned catalog—out of almost a hun­dred from the Hun­gar­i­an Gallery Nemzeti Sza­lon—from a 1957 exhi­bi­tion of sculp­tor Mik­lós Bor­sos. The text is in Hun­gar­i­an, but the art­work (fur­ther up), in detailed black and white pho­tographs, speaks a uni­ver­sal visu­al lan­guage.

These cat­a­logs join the thou­sands of books—50,000 titles in all—at the Met’s Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions. There, you’ll find col­lec­tions such as Rare Books Pub­lished in Impe­r­i­al and Ear­ly Sovi­et Rus­sia, with unusu­al trea­sures like the book Church­es of Uglich, a sur­vey of one Russ­ian town’s church­es, with pho­tos, from the 1880s. “Inter­est­ed in Dada?” asks the Met, and who isn’t? The muse­um has just added a 1917 issue of jour­nal The Blind Man, edit­ed by Mar­cel Duchamp and con­tain­ing Alfred Stieglitz’s pho­to­graph of Duchamp’s found art prank Foun­tain.

If fashion’s your thing, the muse­um has added thou­sands of Bergdorf Good­man sketch­es from 1929 to 1952 (see a par­tic­u­lar­ly ele­gant exam­ple above from the 1930s). Maybe you’re into the his­to­ry of the Met itself? If so, check out this mas­sive col­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal images of the muse­um, inside and out, dat­ing from its incep­tion in 1870 to the present. There’s even a selec­tion of pho­tos of its icon­ic spe­cial exhi­bi­tion ban­ners from 1970 through 2004 (like that below from 1982).

If you’re head­ed to the Met to see one of these spe­cial exhibits, take my advice and don’t get dis­tract­ed once you’re inside. But if you want to access a range of the museum’s cul­tur­al trea­sures from afar, you can’t do any bet­ter than brows­ing its Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions, where you’re also like­ly to get lost for hours, maybe days.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art Makes 375,000 Images of Fine Art Avail­able Under a Cre­ative Com­mons License: Down­load, Use & Remix

Down­load 200+ Free Mod­ern Art Books from the Guggen­heim Muse­um

2,000+ Archi­tec­ture & Art Books You Can Read Free at the Inter­net Archive

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

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