Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Art Tracks: Visualizing the Stories and Lifespan of an Artwork


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Inside the digital media lab of Carnegie Museum of Art. Click to enlarge image. Photo: Jeffrey Inscho.

The Digital Media Lab at Carnegie Museum of Art is attempting to structure provenance and exhibition history data so curators, scholars, and software developers can create dynamic visualizations that answer impossible questions—and we’ve assembled a talented team to do it. But of course that’s a fairly simplified explanation of the project. To better understand exactly what we are looking to accomplish, I need to delve deeper. 

For instance, have you ever wondered how artworks arrive at a museum? I’m not talking about the physical logistics of art object transportation, but rather the journey over time and space that artworks make to arrive at a particular museum at a particular moment in time? Continue reading

New Hire: Tracey Berg-Fulton


new-hire_tracey-berg-fulton_cmoa-blog_450pWhat is your official title, and what are some of your general responsibilities?

My official title is Collections Database Associate. I am working on a new project called Art Tracks that will hopefully provide our provenance data as linked open data. At this point in the project, my responsibilities are mainly cleaning up database records, creating new records where needed, checking facts, and working with our project developer to figure out how to get the best data out of our collections database. My role is pretty exciting, in that I get to be kind of a bridge between the curatorial department, the registrar’s department, and the technology department. I have a background in registration, but I have a totally not secret love of technology and the net, so this is a great fit for me, and I feel like I’ve learned a ton!

What were you doing before joining us at CMOA?

Immediately before coming to CMOA, I was the database administrator at a tech startup called Shoefitr here in Pittsburgh. Before Shoefitr, I was the Registrar at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Prior to that, I was a contract registrar, working with private clients, small galleries, and corporate clients to do, well, basically anything that needed to be done. Art shipping, painting, installing, condition reporting, toilet repair (yes, really), I could do it. If we want to take a trip in the Way Back Machine, I got my museum start at CMOA. I was here as a volunteer in the Decorative Arts department in 2008 after I moved back to the US from Scotland, and then worked in the Technology department as an imaging technician before I headed out to Oklahoma to start my registrarial career. Continue reading

What Does It Mean for a Museum To Be Truly Experimental?


Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014.

Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014

Ever since Carnegie Museum of Art launched the Hillman Photography Initiative earlier this year, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means for a museum to be truly experimental. When I began my research three years ago, the major premise of the Initiative was to create something totally new in the field of photography. On the other side of a successful launch, I now realize just how ambitious our goal was. But at the time, it felt more like an amorphous challenge, albeit one that had all my problem-solving neurons firing. As with any experiment, we didn’t have a clear understanding of how the Initiative would manifest or what form it would take. Now that the project is up and running, I find myself looking back at how the Initiative was realized and some of the things we’ve learned so far. Continue reading

A Closer Look at the Technology Behind an Exhibition


"A Closer Look" iPads installed in the gallery.

“A Closer Look” iPads installed in the gallery

The museum recently opened Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque, a comprehensive exhibition that traces the development of prints across the centuries, explores the evolution of printmaking techniques, and unlocks the images’ hidden meanings. The works in the show are dynamic, striking, elaborately detailed, and quite beautiful. If you haven’t yet seen the exhibition, it runs throughout the summer and I highly recommend it. Continue reading

Frances Benjamin Johnston in Charleston


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Frances Benjamin Johnston, self-portrait, in her Washington, D.C., studio, 1896.

I recently spent a few days in Charleston, South Carolina, researching and revisiting sites photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston. In the Heinz Architectural Collection there are 25 photographs by Johnston, an early female photojournalist and later in life a documentary photographer. Johnston’s interest in photographing buildings was mainly for preservation purposes. Her goal was to document the buildings should they be torn down, but also to inspire communities to preserve or restore the historic edifices if possible. The photographs in our collection represent houses, storefronts, and architectural details around the historic downtown Charleston area. The set was displayed in 1937 at the Gibbes Art Gallery, now the Gibbes Art Museum, and will be on view in the Heinz Architectural Center in the upcoming exhibition Architecture + Photography.

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Frances Benjamin Johnston, 148 Queen Street, Charleston, S.C., 1937, gelatin silver print. This image is one of the thousands of photographs taken by Johnston in the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.

Johnston donated most of her archive to the Library of Congress. Part of the archive includes the original photographs of the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, a multi-year endeavor to photograph buildings from Maryland to Louisiana.

During my research trip I revisited the sites in Johnston’s photographs in an attempt to recreate the scene as much as possible. Many of the buildings in our set of 25 photographs are still standing, but a few are empty lots, or are completely unrecognizable. Below are some comparisons between Johnston’s images from 1937 and some from the recent trip.

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Market Hall, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Doorway at 32 Charlotte Street, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Parish House, Congregational Church, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013

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Town Houses, Charleston, S.C.; (L): Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1937, gelatin silver print (R): 2013