Maggie Mugharbel, Jenny Korns, Sanam Aarabi
Our persona group is an art museum, which has a collection of more than fifty commissioned net art works that it is seeking to manage. In addition to the code and scripts that make up the artworks, the art museum is looking to describe related documentation, such as commission contracts and technical documents. On September 7, 2016, our group met with Majida (Maggie) Mugharbel, Permanent Collection Documentation Manager from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Maggie discussed what her job entails, what the Museum’s procedures are for commissioning art, and the way documenting the permanent collection differs from commissioned net art pieces. The discussion helped our group understand the real life management of commissioned net art in an art museum setting.
A Collection Documentation Manager at the Whitney Museum is responsible, in part, for research pertaining to new acquisitions, completing paperwork for the board of trustees, and ensuring documentation is consistent for different object types. Maggie also discussed net art commissioned for the Whitney Museum’s Artport project, which was created in 2001 by the Whitney Museums curator Christiane Paul. Paul determines which artists are awarded commissions. She also determines when to consult with conservation and preservation staff, and issues like browser obsolescence are of great concern. Maggie explained that the museum now has over eighty Artport projects. Nearly all net art featured are commissioned works under non-exclusive licensing; therefore, the Museum shares rights to these projects with the artists. The Artport website showcases commissioned net art works as well as one piece of net art that the museum owns in its permanent collection.
As Maggie pointed out, permanent collection pieces have defined rules of documentation and cataloging, which is not the case with Artport works. Maggie stressed that they still need to work out a process for making the cataloging of these works more consistent. For instance, some works have records in their TMS database and some others might only have hard copy records. For works in the permanent collection, individual records are created for each work in the database and a hard copy file also exists. Maggie also noted medium and dimension pixels as examples of cataloging inconsistencies. While LIDO is used for documentation guidelines, there are not as many fields used for net art works as for items from the permanent collection.
Maggie discussed the different types of documentation associated with net art works, including commission agreements, non-exclusive license agreements, and technical documents, such as instructions. Works in their permanent collection are documented through a number of different questionnaires, such as an object questionnaire, conservation questionnaire, and artist questionnaire. A questionnaire regarding the artist’s motivations would be helpful in documenting net art commissions.
The conversation with Maggie was very informative, and she was more than generous with her time. Some particularly informative moments came when she posed questions to us that she and the museum staff have deliberated. Topics like where the works should live in the database and whether it would acceptable to display net art in a museum environment gave us much to consider.
– Jenny Korns, Sanam Aarabi