Researching the History and Exhibitions of The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Class Guide
Class Level: Basic
Instructors: Lisa Harms and John Lindaman
Information about the Museum’s history and exhibitions is scattered throughout various books, journals, emphemera, and electronic resources. This class will look at a wide variety of these sources including JSTOR, the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, WATSONLINE, the New York Times archive, Flickr and Oxford Art Online. We will also point out important print resources and clippings files available at the Watson Library.
1. The Museum’s website (www.metmuseum.org)
- General information about the history of the Museum and each curatorial department
- The Press Room has news about the Museum including current press releases and a press release archive.
- Annual reports from 2003-present (previous annual reports can be found here through WATSONLINE)
2. Important works in Watson Library (www.libmma.org/portal)
There are several books that chronicle the history of the Museum. There are copies of each of these near the Reference Desk in Watson Library or in the Watson Library stacks.
- Howe, Winifred E., A history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; with a chapter on the early institutions of art in New York N610 .H75 1946 Ref Desk MMA
- Information about the Museum’s architecture, donors, collections and directors
- Tomkins, Calvin, Merchants and masterpieces : the story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art N610 .T65 1989 Ref Desk MMA
While in WATSONLINE, you can find additional information about Museum directors by searching the name by keywords. For example, typing in ”Thomas Hoving” will yield 27 results. However, to ensure a comprehensive results lits, it is wise to search by the full name of the director. In this case, “Thomas P.F. Hoving”. This will give you a list of items available from the libraries in the Museum. To request an item from Watson Library, simply click on the Request or Recall button and enter your last name and Museum ID number.
In the Research section of the library’s portal, you will find “canned” searches for an up-to-date list of Met-related publications. The link for a search on collection catalogs will result in a chronological list of Met collection catalogs.
This resource includes the complete and searchable Grove Dictionary of Art Online. By searching “Metropolitan Museum of Art” in Oxford, you will get a brief history of the Museum. Additionally, you will get a bibliography for further reading about the Met.
A large selection of newspaper clippings, articles, and other ephemera material related to the Museum’s history is available on microfilm in Watson Library. These clippings and scrapbooks document the Museum’s collections, exhibitions, archaeological excavations and expeditions, education activities, programs, publications, staff and trustees.
The contents of the collection were found in the stacks of the Museum’s Thomas J. Watson Library. Although the source of the material is not known in all cases, the clippings came to the Museum from several clipping agencies; later on, clippings came to the Library from different departments within the Museum. The files were compiled, in part, by the Office of the Secretary, 1925-1939, and by the Office of Associate in Industrial Art, 1918-1929
To locate specific information, it is best to first consult the finding aid. The best way to search for information in the finding aid (once you’ve clicked the link “Finding Aid” and opened it) is to use Ctrl-F on your keyboard and enter in keywords. For example, I could search “de Montebello” and then click through to see the box and folder numbers that have information about our former director. You can then request that box and folder number on microfilm from the Circulation Desk at Watson Library.
5. Information on donors, trustees, directors
There are several resources that will aid you in finding information about people associated with the Museum.
- American National Biography Online (ANB)
- This resource features nearly 18,000 biographies, thousands of illustrations, and the ability to search by name, occupation, birthplace, life dates, and contributor. Occasionally, recently deceased individuals who are considered noteworthy will be added in quarterly updates, though most individuals are included within two to four years of their death.
- For example, a search on Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, a significant donor to the Museum, will result in a fairly extensive bio that will verify the spelling of her name, birth and death dates, occupation and city of residence. It also includes a bibliography.
- Marquis Who’s Who on the Web
- Provides access to over 1.3 million biographies. This online resource also gives you access to Who’s Who in American Art, and Who’s Who in American History.
- For more information on using Marquis, see our class guide.
- New York Times Archive
- Here you will find obituaries and other related articles about people associated with the Museum.
- Keep in mind that if a person is particularly well-known, you should not limit your search to just obituaries as their death may have been printed as a full article. Again, a search on Catharine Lorillard Wolfe is a good example of finding information about her philanthropy and art patronage. If you have already checked a biographical resource like Marquis Who’s Who, you can refine your search with the year of death. For Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, it would be 1887. You’ll see by searching between 1/1/1887 and 12/31/1887 for “catharine lorillard wolfe” gives us 9 results. The first of which is the article announcing her death on April 4th. Additionally, there are articles about her collection of paintings being willed to the Museum.
1. For a comprehensive account of the history of the Museum’s architecture, read Morrison Heckscher’s article in the MMA Bulletin from the Summer of 1995. It is available full text here from JSTOR. There are additional articles in the Bulletin that discuss various architectural elements of the Museum.
2. There is a volume of Museum building plans from 1932 behind the Reference Desk. Click here for the WATSONLINE record.
Note: The Archives Department in the Museum is a resource for advanced researchers who have exhausted other avenues of inquiry. Their collections are not yet indexed online. They serve primarily as a legal archive rather than a repository for all documents relating to the Museum’s history. You can contact them by emailing email@example.com with as full as possible a description of your research question.
Digital Media department maintains a collection of images of the Museum, donors and historic events obtained from the Archives department. You can contact them directly with your image request by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (212)650-2262.
Flickr is an online tool that allows users to share photos. See information about Flickr on Watson Library’s Web 2.0 class guide. We point it out for this class as a possible source for photos of the Museum. You do not need to create an account to search the site. Simply type in “metropolitan museum of art” facade and you will find at least 140 photos taken by Museum visitors, some of which have detailed views of the building’s architecture.
This guide will explore resources for finding out if an exhibition occured and when, if the exhibition had a catalog, how to find press reaction and reviews and more detailed information.
The first step in checking to see if an exhibition took place is to check WATSONLINE for a published exhibtion catalog. Though, it should be noted that not all exhibitions are accompanied by a catalog. That will be explored later in the class. There are several ways to check WATSONLINE for a catalog. If you know the year of the exhibition, you can quickly browse a list of exhibition related Museum publications by clicking here or by clicking on the Research link from the library’s portal. This list is automatically sorted by year. You can refine this list by clicking Modify Search and adding in specific keywords from the exhibition. Fill in the second box in the Modify Search form with your keywords, for example Courbet. Here we see 9 results sorted by year. If we wanted the catalog from the show in 2008, it would be relatively easy to identify it from the list, along with other related material such as the press kit.
The Timeline of Art History, available through the Museum’s website (www.metmuseum.org) now features a bibliography of nearly 2,000 MMA publications since 1964. You can browse these titles by thematic category, the respective department in the Museum (i.e. Photographs or European Paintings), author’s last name, title, year of publication, and publication type. The bibliography includes not only exhibition catalogs, but also collection catalogs, Bulletin articles, symposium papers and more. For example, if you browse by department, such as American Decorative Arts, you’ll find a list of all of the publications related to that department. From the list, you can expand each title for information on where to find the publication (links to search WATSONLINE and WorldCat), related Timeline content and additional browse options.
3. Watson Library Reference Desk boxes
As mentioned above, not all exhibitions are accompanied by a catalog; sometimes, a brochure or a checklist is the only documentation. If that is the case, we may have it at the Reference Desk. There is a collection of exhibition checklists and brochures in boxes under the call number 107.1 N486 (see an example of a WATSONLINE record here). This collection is probably not comprehensive and others are in the clipping files mentioned above. If it is not in Watson, it might be in the appropriate curatorial department. These are in the process of being digitized and will be available as links in WATSONLINE.
1. The Museum’s website
The Museum’s website has a list of special exhibitions from 2000 – current under Special Exhibitions on the menu to the left of the screen.
2. Binder at Watson Library Reference Desk
There is a binder at the Reference Desk with a list of exhibitions from 1970-2003. To take a look at it, just ask the Reference Librarian.
The Annual Report of the Trustees lists or mentions the exhibitions that took place during each year; some of the annual reports list the exhibitions, and some report the exhibitions as part of a narrative. Occasionally, “minor” exhibitions are omitted from the annual report listing; in these cases, the only recourse is to consult the ephemera files.
4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin
Available full-text through JSTOR through 2004 and in print in Watson from 2005-current, the Bulletin will often have information about specific exhibitions. For example, searching the keywords “harlem on my mind” within the Bulletin in JSTOR will yield 9 results. Clicking on “Page of First Match” will show you where your search terms appear. You’ll see information about the Harlem on my Mind exhibition of 1969.
5. Card Catalog
There are two drawers in the library’s card catalog devoted to Museum publications which are arranged by date and by deparment. They are filed under MMA.
See the information about clippings and ephemera in the above section on History. You can use the Finding Aid and search by the Ctrl F command and entering keywords from the exhibition. You would then request the microfilm by Box and Folder number. For example, if you wanted information about the exhibition The Splendor of Dresden from 1978, you could use Ctrl F and type in “dresden” to find the appropriate folder and box with relevant clippings. This material can only be viewed in Watson Library on the microfilm reader. We advise you to call 650-2175 or email email@example.com to make an appointment.
7. Robert Goldwater Library blog (for information on exhibitions in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas)
The blog of the Goldwater library lists all exhibitions in AAOA from 1983-present. Click here to access the list.
Dates of an exhibition
If there is a record for an exhibition catalog in WATSONLINE, the dates of the exhibition will most likely be in the note field of the bibliographic record. See an example of the Glitter and Doom exhibition catalog here. If not, you will have to refer to the catalog itself or to the Annual Report.
1. The Press Room on the Museum’s website
You can search for information about a specific exhibition by searching the Press Room of the Museum’s website. For example, a search for “glitter and doom” will list results that include the release about the 2007 exhibtion of German portraits from the 1920s.
Follow the instructions in the above sections to search the finding aids for the library’s Museum clippings and ephemera collections to find press releases for older exhibitions.
You can search The New York Times archive for reviews of exhibitions by typing in “metropolitan musem of art” and keywords from the title of the exhibiton. For example, to find the NY Times review of Tom Campbell’s first tapestry exhibition from 2002, Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence, you can search the keywords “metropolitan museum of art” and “tapestry in the renaissance”. The first result is the review.
To receive automatic email delivery of links to reviews of exhibitions from all news sources, you can set up a Google Alert for the term “metropolitan museum of art”. You can customize the frequency and source of your alerts (just from news sources or from all over the web). The alert will pick up any news story, including reviews, with your keywords and email you links to the full-text of the content.
Exhibition conception and planning, Correspondence, Installation photographs
It is best to contact the department directly for information of this nature after you have consulted the exhibition catalog. Note that there might be installation photographs included in the press clippings. You can also contact the Digital Media department (firstname.lastname@example.org or (212)650-2262 for information about photographs of exhibitions. You can also contact the Film and Media Archive with requests for film, video, and audio recordings by emailing email@example.com or calling (212)879-5500, x2032.
For assistance with questions about Museum history, exhibitions or objects, please email the Reference Desk at Watson Library at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated 5/7/2009 LMH