Home III. Bringing together information Three approaches Audio Interview with Natalie Vanier, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Audio Interview with Natalie Vanier, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

October, 2009

Natalie Vanier, Cataloguer


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Natalie Vanier is the Cataloguer at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where she has been working for nearly 25 years. During that time, she has also worked as a researcher, and a loans and acquisitions technician. She has been a member of the DOCAM Research Alliance Cataloguing Structure Committee since 2006.


The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) recently started collecting new media works. Did the inclusion of these works in the Museum collection create any challenges in terms of cataloguing, documentation and data capture?

At first, adding new media works to the MMFA’s collections has not created any major challenges in terms of cataloguing, documentation or data capture. Given the considerable number of acquisitions the Museum makes annually (approximately 500 works per year right now), the few new media works in the collection were documented in nearly the same way as our other works. Given the diversity of our collection, we have developed an approach over the years that can be applied to various types of objects. Our questions about documentation and data capture emerged with the Documentation and Conservation of the Media Arts Heritage project (DOCAM).


Were there certain works that required some re-thinking about data-entry methods?

In general, we had to reconsider our approach when we wanted to attach visual documentation to the database as new media works often require extensive visual documentation to fully understand how they work. We also evaluated our collections management system in terms of these types of works.


Is the Museum able to follow its usual cataloguing practices when documenting new media works?

Our database allows us to follow established cataloguing and documenting practices, as it can capture all the information related to new media works. According to the cataloguing guide, we can use the same fields in the database as for the other works in the collection, although using more technical and less traditional vocabulary.


One work of art from the MMFA, Royal Canadian Mounted Police by artist Nam June Paik, was part of a case study conducted by the DOCAM Cataloguing Structure Committee. How did you integrate and interrelate the information associated with this new media work in your database?

First, we analyzed the various options available with the Museum’s database bearing in mind our main goal, which is to adequately incorporate new media works with the rest of the collection. The Museum has an international collection that covers nearly all periods in the history of art, and we wanted new media works to be catalogued following the same information structure. Essentially, we found that the same fields could be used for the entire collection. For example, the case study showed us that we could capture descriptions of the works’ components in our database, as well as very detailed descriptions of their installation. The flexibility of the software also allowed us to visually document the work used in the case study. For example, a number of images of components and installation plans related to Royal Canadian Mounted Police were linked directly to the computer system. In so doing, we were able to properly document the work and interrelate its data with the rest of the collection.


For the Museum, what are the benefits of this information-linking approach?

The interrelation of data through one software application is essential to a collection. We need to be able to incorporate the documentation for new media works into the Museum’s database to facilitate research within a collection and also disseminate information effectively. In fact, the cataloguing guide clearly shows this possibility by using existing fields.