Digital Observations and Perspectives

Digital Observations and Perspectives

As with any major museum, the Whitney makes extensive use of digital technologies and tools in its day-to-day operations.

The Whitney’s collections management database, TMS (short for The Museum System), is an ubiquitous presence in hundreds of museums and other cultural heritage institutions around the world. Published by a company called Gallery Systems, TMS is primarily an object database, used to record information about the physical specifications, location, provenance, and exhibition history of art objects. TMS is also used to manage important documentary records like accession sheets and condition reports.

In addition to its main Objects module, TMS also has other modules that help to contextualize its objects. The Constituents module is used to record information people and institutions related to the Whitney’s objects, including artists, art dealers, shipping companies, and other museums. The Exhibitions module is used to record the exhibition history of the Whitney’s objects both at the Whitney and at other institutions. The Media module is used to manage the documentary images of each objects. The Events module is used to track events in the life cycle of an art piece, such as specific times and locations when a performance art piece was performed. Finally, the Bibliography module is used to track books that feature or otherwise help to provide contextual information about a specific object.

Another, more surprising, tool used by the Whitney is GitHub. GitHub is an online repository for publishing programming scripts. The Whitney has an internal GitHub repository for code related to its Linked Open Data project. Through GitHub, I was able to “fork”, or create a personal copy, of code created by the previous Pratt LOD Fellow, Joshua Dull, and to add my own scripts and data created over the course of my work at the Whitney. Interestingly, I also learned in taking LIS-661: Art Documentation (co-taught by my supervisor at the Whitney, Research Resources Director Farris Wahbeh, and Pratt Professor Cristina Pattuelli), that the Whitney uses GitHub to receive and track the development of code-based new media artworks in its collection, such as pieces commissioned for its Artport site.