Alt-Career Spotlight: Hannah Barton, Art Researcher at Artifex Press

This series of interviews feature individuals who have received their MLIS/MSIS, but do not currently hold positions solely dedicated to art librarianship. Some may work in libraries and have an interest or duties related to art librarianship, while others use their information science skills in fields outside of the traditional library setting.

What is the name of the employer/institution you work for?
I am an art researcher, working with Artifex Press, a publisher of digital catalogues raisonnés.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?
I received my Bachelor’s in Art History from Lewis & Clark College and two years later moved to New York to attend the dual-degree Art History and Library Science Master’s program at Pratt Institute. While receiving my MS and MLIS, I held internships with the New York Art Resources Consortium at the Frick and Museum of Modern Art Libraries, followed by an internship at the Whitney Museum of American Art Library. In my last year at Pratt I was hired by Artifex Press as a Research Assistant on their Jim Dine catalogue raisonné. After the Dine catalogue was published, I began my first solo project of editing the Tim Hawkinson catalogue, which was published in 2015 but remains an ongoing project as the artist continues to create new work. Over the last three years I have also been editing the Lucas Samaras: Boxes catalogue raisonné, which was published to our subscribers at the end of 2017 and will require ongoing research and upkeep.

What brought you to your current position?
After interning at several art libraries in New York, I realized that perhaps a traditional library was no longer where I wanted to work. The job posting for my first position at Artifex Press asked that the applicant be very familiar with library research as well as content standards for art and art history, which for me was the perfect opportunity — I got to put my MLIS to use while researching art!

What does a typical work day look like for you?
Catalogue raisonné research is so vast that I rarely have a “typical” day, though most days involve a lot of emailing — contacting institution owners of works, venues of previous exhibitions, galleries that hold works, etc. During various points in the research process, I also spend a lot of time in art libraries conducting research. The most recent catalogue I’ve been working on includes over 350 publication citations, and I had to track each and every one of those down. And on special days, I get to look at art! I was recently able to travel to Los Angeles to look at a Samaras box owned by a public institution. Our digital catalogue platform allows us to include a variety of multimedia content, and with the Samaras catalogue we have chosen to create short videos of a selection of works, so that the viewer can see how the boxes function with all of their component parts. Going to view the work in person is essential to get a grasp of the intricacies of these works in order to better film them and give the viewer the full understanding of their content.

Do you stay involved in the field of art librarianship and if so, how?
Unfortunately, I have sort of lost touch with the field of art librarianship, aside from utilizing it for my own research needs. I keep up with things peripherally, as I attended ARLIS in New Orleans last year and still have many friends in the field. Art Librarians are some of Artifex Press’s most coveted users, as our catalogues are produced to help with research in the field.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box in terms of career options! I went into library school with the direct aim of working in an art library, but I found a job that actually better catered to my interests without really knowing it at first. Traditionally, catalogue raisonné editors and researchers have been art historians and scholars, and while I would consider myself an art historian, I never would have thought I would be editing catalogues raisonnés. I got into the field through my research abilities and my interest in the organization of information, and by sticking around long enough I developed the skills to tackle these projects on my own.

What are some of the current challenges you see in your field or the art/information science field?
One of the main challenges in the field of digital CR creation is convincing users that digital is better than analog for this medium. I completely understand the hesitancy by many to embrace purely digital publications, and I am also guilty of oftentimes preferring analog to digital, being able to hold the book in my hands and flip through the pages, having a physical object to collect and archive. But in the case of catalogues raisonnés, I am now a firm believer that digital is better. Catalogues raisonnés in analog form are already out of date by the time they are printed. Artworks have a life of their own once they leave the artist; they can be infinitely exhibited and cited or illustrated in various publications, as well as can change hands from collector to collector. Once a CR is printed, the history of each object included in the publication can no longer be updated in the completed publication, but with a digital catalogue, the history of each artwork remains current as it can be continually updated. Convincing users that digital is better also comes with the challenge of assuring them that the data will be safe and accessible far into the future. Artifex Press has been working with top art libraries and digital archives to maintain a strategy for permanently archiving the data we are creating.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not working, I try to be outside as much as possible. I love traveling and exploring, even if that just means a quick day trip to somewhere nearby. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’m experimenting with new creative endeavors. I am currently re-learning how to use a sewing machine and I plan to try and make some of my own clothes this year…we’ll see how that goes.

One comment:

  1. This sounds like a really interesting career! How did you find this position? I’d love to find a career that matches my love of art and research.

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