How to Catalogue Art

Everson Museum Catalogue Box (1971-94), by Yoko Ono © Yoko Ono (image courtesy of www.apollo-
Everson Museum Catalogue Box (1971-94), by Yoko Ono © Yoko Ono, displayed at the exhibition: ‘Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection’ at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2015. | Image source:

For your own benefit as a collector, artist, gallerist, curator, or art enthusiast, you should keep an archive of your art—that’s a comprehensive record of each piece that lists its name, provenance, materials, contextual information, serial or edition number, and location. Your archive is a good way to organize and keep track of your collection as a whole. Sometimes, however, you may want to provide a record of a subset of works for a show or a sale. In that case, you’re going to want to create an art catalogue.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT Works on Paper. Catalogue raisonne by Marshall, Richard et al. 376 pp.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: Works on Paper. Catalogue raisonne by Marshall, Richard et al. 376 pp., with roughly 350 color reproductions and numerous b&w figures. 4to, boards, slipcased. Paris, Galerie Enrico Navarra, 1999.

What Is an Art Catalogue?

An art catalogue is simply a list of the contents in a collection, portfolio, or series of art. It’s typically focused on a single exhibition or collection, and can be distributed to other interested artists and collectors to show the pieces included in that collection. Instead of an internal recordkeeping system (like an archive), it’s more of a marketing asset. Think big, glossy photos with the main details about each piece. A classic example of a catalogue you’ve probably come across are the museum exhibition catalogues.

Jean-Michel Basquiat Catalogue Printed for Gagosian Gallery art catalogue
Jean-Michel Basquiat Catalogue: Printed for Gagosian Gallery in 2015 for the exhibition, Jean-Michel Basquiat at Gagosian Gallery in NYC in 2013. Curated by Larry Gagosian and texts by Robert Farris Thompson and Rene Ricard. | Image source

How Do I Create an Art Catalogue?

There are a number of ways to go about cataloguing art, depending on the tools you have at hand and what you want to do with the finished product.

With just a camera and a computer, you can create an online art catalogue. There are several programs that will help you create a professional-looking record for each piece—including ARTDEX. Alternately, you can create your own website to serve as an online art catalogue. You can use that site to sell your work, too, but it’s also a lot more work and has a much steeper learning curve than simply using off-the-shelf software to do it.

An online art catalogue is inexpensive, easy to use, and accessible to everyone, but you may want to create a print catalogue instead or in addition. That means you’ll need to either find a publisher or self-publish it. A publisher will handle all of the logistics, but it’s not easy to get a publisher interested in an art catalogue. Self-publishing is accessible to anyone, but it requires much more legwork and you’ll have to pay for your printed catalogs up front. In the end, however, you’ll have a tangible record of the collection or exhibit that you can send out to galleries, curators, and collectors—and keep for yourself!


What Do I Put In My Art Catalogue?

Whether digital or printed, your art catalogue should include high-quality photos of each artwork along with its title, artist, medium, dimensions, and date of creation. If you’re the artist, your catalogue may include an Artist’s Statement. If you’re not the artist, you may want to include a personal comment or note that describes the collection and the purpose of the catalogue. You may also want to include a section letting readers know where they can find your art.

Your art catalogue is like a catalogue for any other product. You want to show those artworks in their best light and give your audience the information they need about each piece. Consider the order and organization of the catalogue—make sure it’s consistent both internally and with your vision for the collection.

In a sense, creating an art catalogue is both simpler and more complicated than creating an archive. You can simply pull the information for your catalogue out of your archival records. If you’re using a digital tool like ARTDEX, it’s easy to create those records and pull them out whenever you need them. However, it requires having a clearly defined perspective when both choosing and organizing the pieces you want to include—easier said than done. Instead of pure recordkeeping, it’s about presenting the work in a coherent and meaningful way. It’s not bookkeeping—it’s an artistic statement in and of itself.


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