Being able to take a bit of the museum home with us is both how museums make money and how most people see art.
Browsing the books category on this blog will show that I am indeed an art book, museum catalog junkie. Whenever I go to a museum exhibition, I’m always, in the back of my mind, thinking about whether what I’m seeing is something I’m going to want to be able to tell and show people about later.* If what I’m seeing is interesting enough, and the book is good enough, I end up purchasing it in the gift shop.
*In many ways, this is the same impulse which prompts a lot of my blogging.
And I look through them later. My art book bookshelf is turning into an autobiography of the museums and exhibitions I’ve seen over the past decade—even and especially from when I go traveling. While I remember a lot of the exhibitions, it’s especially nice to be able to open up a book and flip through to get extra details or exact names.
I can’t do this online. Sometimes it’s because the search terms elude me. Other times the information is just missing since many museums don’t have useful exhibition archives.
But it’s more than just reference material or memories. I buy the catalogs because the art they contain happened to make me think. I can’t always work through my thoughts in the museum and it’s nice to continue the thinking and review what I saw at my own pace later on—whether it’s later that day or maybe a year or so after the fact.
I’ve reached the point where I’m deeply disappointed when an exhibition I love does not have a catalog available. Or if the available catalog fails to capture what I love about the work.
It’s not that I want the book. It’s that I know I’ll want to revisit and review what I saw and the absence of the catalog means that my museum experience is being cut short.