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What's in the Library: Books: Exhibition Catalogues

What is an Exhibition Catalogue

An exhibition catalogue is a printed book produced to accompany a temporary exhibition or installation at a gallery or alternative space. It documents the contents of an exhibition, providing a forum for critical dialogue between curators, artists and critics. 

It can take many forms from "descriptive catalogues," or large-format "coffee table" books with high resolution images and academically researched essays, to small informal pamphlets, or "handlists," that only include a citation for artworks exhibited, often without accompanying images.

Exhibition catalogues can be used as a generic term that refers to:

  • catalogues raisonné: usually a chronologically ordered list of the entire oeuvre of an artist, or sometimes an artistic movement.
  • trade catalogues: providing the listing of participants in a trade fair or corporate event; these are similar to design annuals (see: What's in the Library: Periodicals: Annuals)
  • biennial catalogues: listing artists who exhibited in major international art biennials or triennials (see:What's in the Library: Periodicals: Biennials )

At the OCAD University Library, exhibition catalogues are usually treated as books and are assigned call numbers and included in subject order in the collection. Many are available as circulating copies (for you to sign out), but larger catalogues--especially catalogues raisonné--are reference only, meaning that they cannot be signed out of the library over night.

Given that they are treated as books, it can be difficult determining if you are sourcing an exhibition catalogue, but try to identify if:

Using Exhibition Catalogues

Can I cite from an EXHIBITION CATALOGUE in a research paper?

Any source used to research an academic paper should be included in the Works Cited List/Bibliography. Be aware, however, that:

  • some instructors may question using a work that is not published by a university press or academic publisher
  • some catalogues are published by art galleries in tandem with popular art press publishers; such as
  • a curator--especially celebrities that work in tandem with an art gallery--might not be seen as appropriately academic; such as:

Despite these issues, in an art and design educational environment it is important to recognize the integrity and scholarly purpose of:

  • art galleries and museums: as a central voice in defining and maintaining artistic, aesthetic, and creative cultural standards
  • curators: as an essential voice in recognizing, interpreting, and understanding visual forms of communication and that their experience in curatorial practice is of equal scholarly value as research conducted in a university environment using scientific methodologies
  • professional juries: as a form of artistic "peer-review"; artists who are selected by jury to exhibit at a gallery or an international art exhibition have achieved a noteworthy level in their creative practice
  • artists: who oftentimes will contribute essays, interviews, or artists' statements for exhibition catalogue publications. Recognizing their  voices as an integral component of the visual experience between viewer, curator, and artwork is a testament to the depth of their creative vision

If you are still uncertain, you can use an exhibition catalogue in a similar manner to reference books, serving as a guide to your topic for sourcing:

  • key writers, theorist, critics, or authors who are experts on your topic, then search these people as authors in a library catalogue to access their own primary sources
  • keywords or subjects that you can use to search for books or peer-reviewed journal articles supporting these concepts

Examples of Print Exhibition Catalogues