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Getty Research Institute to convene task force that may help give art historians tools for the 21st century

April 17, 2010 |  8:00 am

Gri The Getty Research Institute will convene an international task force  in New York on Tuesday to explore ways to create 21st century (as in super-tech friendly and global-minded) versions of one of the art historian's major tools -- the bibliography.

The meeting, which has been under discussion for more than a year, is timely since budget woes prompted a recent end to GRI funding of the Bibliography of the History of Art, a significant reference source.

The BHA, which can trace its origins back a century, offers access to hundreds of thousands of periodicals, books, catalogs, conference proceedings and other bibliographical records.

The Getty Research Institute has provided at least partial financing for the database in its various forms since the early 1980s, a Getty spokeswoman said, spending an average of $1 million a year. At the end of 2007, it became the project's sole means of support and produced what it called the International Bibliography of Art, which it hoped to expand to include more non-European and newer works.

But after two years, the dreary economy and projected cost increases prompted the GRI to end its support, leaving the database updated only through 2009 and about 700 subscribing institutions worrying they would be cut off after March 31, 2010.

On April 1, however, the Getty announced it would offer free public access to the bibliography through its website.

Even so, the database's future remains unresolved. Thomas Gaehtgens, the director of the Getty Research Institute, says attempts to find someone to continue the project have been unsuccessful in part because no one has wanted to commit the resources required by the traditional process of having editors summarize mountains of material.

"What was positive," says Gaehtgens, "is there was major interest in collaborating on creating something different, a future bibliography for the history of art. For more than a year, we've talked about bringing together the chief librarians of the major art history libraries from all over the world -- which is what we are doing in New York."

Gaehtgens predicts Tuesday's gathering, which will be paid for by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, will be the first of many since so much is going on in technology and art -- "including great interest in covering countries and continents that weren't covered before."

Collaboration will be crucial, says Gaehtgens. "A lot has been done but it's not been linked together." Even when the economy improves, he adds, bibliographies will require "everybody combining forces. That is the future."

-- Karen Wada

Photo: The Getty Research Institute. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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