Some basics on art catalogues

Hi there. The writer of this blog is – amongst many other things – currently focusing on exhibition catalogues. Therefore, for a while, I will document my researches here.

Here some excerpts from: Francesco Poli, “Il sistema dell’arte contemporanea. Produzione artistica, mercato, musei”, Laterza, 2011. (bad translations from me)

Catalogues are a fundamental dispositif of the art system, a tool for documentation, promotion and legitimization of artists, shows and galleries.

Art catalogues are one of the many elements through which one can acknowledge the development of the art system. [Poli highlight in the whole book the relationship between art production and the art market; he uses catalogues to sustain his sociological / economical analysis of the art system] Even until the 1960s, catalogues were sober and simple, if compared with the luxurious contemporary publication.

Elements of the catalogue:
– Paper (quality and quantity – aka thickness of the book)
– Reproduction of the works (BW vs color)
– Graphic design of the book
– Written contributions (the author can influence / enhance the success of the artist)
– Data sheets about each artwork (technical / historical analysis)
– Biography of the artist
– Bibliography

Types of catalogue:
– Exhibition catalogues: in (A) private gallery; (B) museum / public space
– Related to the art market: (C) auction; (D) annual quotation indexes (?) / those are in a critical moment.
– Werkverzeichnis / catalogue raisonné: (E) extensive documentation of the work of a (dead or living) artist . With cards for each artwork – filologic or historic facts.

Purpose of catalogues:
– cultural / critical / historical
– commercial
They cannot be always clearly separated – in general it is about promoting and adding value to the work of an artist.



Rather the commercial ones, my interest resides especially in the catalogues releating to an exhibition in some kind of space: the types (A) and (B). Specifically, I would focus on the relationship among the three-dimentional space of the gallery and the two dimentions of the printed page.

Nevertheless, a first definition of what catalogues might be is necessary – Poli provided a beginning of it. I will go now for some readings that could provide a sort of history of exhibition catalogues.

Furthermore, in order to properly deepen the relationship between exhibitions and catalogues, I need a set of elements that could be retrieved amongst the two poles.
A semiotic relationship maybe (whatever this mean).

I will start reviewing catalogues and start taking note about their qualities.


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