Research Guide

The Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné (MWCR) has been developed as a Spotlight at Stanford exhibit. Spotlight at Stanford is an online, open source digital platform created and maintained by the Digital Library Systems and Services department of Stanford Libraries. It currently hosts over 130 exhibits focusing on a variety of subjects, including the arts and humanities; maps and geography; science and engineering; social justice; and more. The MWCR is the site’s first catalogue raisonné project.

This Research Guide provides detailed information about the MWCR’s functionality as well as background on various editorial decisions.

Navigating Spotlight and the Stanford Digital Repository

Images of the over 800 works by Wong included in the MWCR are now permanently stored in the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR), where all content is preserved in a robust, reliable, and secure environment for access by scholars today and for generations to come.

To explore all images of Wong’s work in the SDR, researchers can use the Stanford Libraries image viewer on the item details page for each object, such as this ceramic work, Lands End. For helpful information about how to use the image viewer, watch this five-minute tutorial:

The MWCR links to images in the SDR of Wong’s work, while essays and primary source documents link to specific images, as well as saved search results of Wong’s work on a particular topic. In other cases, links direct the researcher to outside online content.

The left-hand sidebar on the MWCR home page displays important metadata facets, allowing researchers to search for specific date/ranges, genres, topics, and regions. In the top right-hand corner, scholars can search for specific terms contained in the descriptive metadata for all images in the MWCR stored in the SDR. A fielded search for title or subject can also be conducted using the drop-down menu to the left of the search box.

The Image Catalog contains records for all of Wong’s work in the MWCR. These records are divided into major browse groups displayed across the top of the page: all, decades, medium, selected topics, and exhibitions. Each browse group is subdivided into specific browse categories. The “search within” feature has been enabled for browse categories with more than twelve objects.

Metadata Schema and Spotlight Advantages and Constraints

Utilizing the Spotlight at Stanford platform to host the online MWCR brings several advantages over a printed catalogue raisonné. Some of these are noted in the site’s introductory essay, which discusses the MWCR as a digital humanities project. Information about particular artworks will necessarily change over time: provenance will shift when the work changes hands; the exhibition history will grow when the painting is featured in new exhibitions; citations will need to be added as new scholarship is published. Recording these changes in an online format is as easy as a few keystrokes and the push of a “reindex” button. Moreover, the MWCR is keyword searchable, enabling a researcher to generate a search on a topic of their interest against the 800-plus works yielding quick and precise results. Groupings of Wong’s paintings by a selected topic, such as storefronts, can be quickly generated on the backend, generating a browse category that provides a viewer with a sense of the breadth of Wong’s treatment of a particular subject.

Such features add an exciting, dynamic edge to the catalogue raisonné format. On the other hand, the necessary adherence to a descriptive metadata schema that enables the preservation of the content in the SDR also results in some constraints, which prevented the editorial team from fully adhering to traditional conventions for catalogues raisonnés. For example, when looking at the information associated with each artwork in the MWCR, the heading “Bibliographic information” does not refer to books or journal articles; it refers instead to information about the art object itself, such as its provenance, exhibition history, its place of creation and current location, and the publications that cite the work either visually or textually. The heading might more appropriately be titled “Object information,” but the heading “Bibliographic information” is fixed in the metadata display and cannot be modified. Similarly, headings such as “Form” refer to media (e.g., acrylic on canvas, ceramic sculpture, etc.), and “Extent” refers to the dimensions of the artwork. To modify these headings would result in a customization of the metadata just for content related to visual art. Such customization for this particular exhibit (or others in the future) would not have been scalable for the metadata (data about the object data) that drives the artworks featured in the MWCR, nor would it serve the long-term preservation of its digital content.

An additional limitation of the Spotlight platform is that the medium for each work of art—standard information in art history—could not be a search facet. This led the team to group works by media into browse categories instead.

In general, the editorial team, fully cognizant of the benefits and restrictions of metadata schema and display and the Spotlight platform, found ways to navigate the challenges, always after thoughtful and fulsome conversations and considerations.

Browse Groups and Categories

MWCR editors used the capabilities of the Spotlight software to create browse categories based upon curated searches of Wong’s content. The image catalog features four browse groups that feature a selection of these, including listing Wong’s artistic production from each of the multiple decades of his career, as well as by medium, selected topics, and exhibitions. The browse group “selected topics” often reflects iconographic information that is provided in the individual image record’s genres and associated topics fields.

The MWCR uses the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) for its description of the genres found in Martin Wong’s works. Developed by the Getty Research Institute, the AAT is a hierarchical taxonomy, using structured vocabularies for art, architecture, decorative arts, and more. Compliant with international standards, the Getty vocabularies provide “authoritative information for catalogers, researchers, and data providers.” The genre terms that we use are the preferred terms for genres; the standardization of genre terms ultimately helps researchers to retrieve results for their searches and other queries.

It is important to underscore that the selected topics browse categories that appear here should not be considered a complete list of possible search topics, nor a comprehensive list of iconographic subjects. The frequency of citation for these found in the topics metadata facet on the MWCR homepage should also not be interpreted as a measure of significance. Rather, the listing and linking of imagery drawn from genres and associated topics iconography are intended to suggest a selection of Wong’s themes and more generally show how his oeuvre is frequently embedded with multilayered meanings.

The exhibitions browse group features those artworks mounted in solo exhibitions during Wong’s lifetime and span from 1970 to 1998. The documentation of these exhibitions is especially valuable as it reflects the artist’s personal involvement in the development of the groupings and installation of the works at each of these presentations.

Provenance Formatting

The challenge of constructing comprehensive provenance records was accomplished in collaboration with the artist’s galleries, both former (Semaphore Gallery, New York, and Exit Art, New York) and present (P.P.O.W Gallery, New York), along with public auction records, public collection records, private collection contacts, and estate records. We looked at the provenance formatting used by Cornell University and the Isamu Noguchi Catalogue Raisonné and settled on a hybrid of these guidelines. Since these records are to further inform the movements of the artworks’ physical history, we included the year and location of the change of ownership when available.

Provenance is listed in chronological order, beginning with the artist and moving towards present day, with the date of ownership following the collection listing and location. If location of the artwork is not known, it is omitted from the record listing. If the exact year of sale is not known but an estimate is available, then it has been listed as an estimated date. “Private collection” reflects that the work is owned by a person or entity, not a gallery or auction house. When we know that an artwork was sold on consignment with a gallery, or through an auction house, parentheses are used to delineate that the artwork was with the gallery or auction house, but not legally owned by that entity. The user will also see the use of parentheses to indicate the collaboration of two galleries on the sale of a work which will appear listed together, separated by a “/.” A semicolon is used between owners to indicate that ownership transferred between those parties.

Several of the objects cataloged from archival images have provenance that lists “Present whereabouts unknown as of 2022.” This reflects that there has not been documentation that has confirmed the exchange of ownership of the work. We hope to update these records through continued research.

Note about Languages

Text is a major component of Wong’s practice. His work engages English, Chinese, Spanish, and American Sign Language (fingerspelling), although the artist had varying degrees of fluency in each. This information is captured under the “language” heading. The preset options in this field meant that we could not denote fingerspelling as a form of signed English distinct from but often incorporated into American Sign Language, an embodied language that includes gestures and facial expressions. The partial nature of Wong’s highly personalized engagement with ASL is captured in the “topics” field, which lists the works using this subject as “ASL (fingerspelling).”