an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

The Tate Recommends Art For You And Me

Did you click on that link to the Tate in my recent post about Becoming van Gogh in Denver? I did. And I was surprised by two features of the Tate website. Aside from showing me a good reproduction of the drawing I wanted you to see, the museum supplied, beneath the van Gogh, “Other works of art you may be interested in.”

T00468_10Amazon and other commercial sites use this technology (and they don’t always get it right), but this was either the first time I noticed it on a museum website or a relatively new development. I was eager to see what other art the Tate thought I might like. Twenty-two other works, as it turned out.

They ranged in date from 1795 to 1982, versus the 1884 creation of Thatched Roofs. Only two were by van Gogh (The Oise at Auvers and Farms Near Auvers). Other artists included Natalya Goncharova (at right), Joan Gonzales, James Dickson Innes, Sir Ernest Albert Waterlow, Charles Condor and Eric Forbes-Robertson — as well as the naturals like Cezanne, Gauguin, Schuffenecker, and Seurat. The work of six of the artists in the lineup (not all mentioned here) was new to me — which means that the Tate is leading people to discoveries.

If you click on any the pictures, you are referred to another selection of “other works of art you may be interested in.” There’s overlap between the selections, but it’s not complete — perhaps half of the artworks are the same, the rest different. Exploring art this way could be endless, but you can quit at any time.

Or you could ignore the whole offer, and just look at the van Gogh drawing.

This seems like a good feature. The Metropolitan Museum’s website offers “related content” for various artworks in its collection — but the suggested works are by the same artist. MoMA doesn’t have this feature either, nor does the National Gallery of Art in Washington. If others so, please let me know. It should spread.

Whether or not it’s a good thing that the website doesn’t explain why the pictures are related — that van Gogh with this Goncharova — is up to you.

Back at the Tate, website visitors can also “find similar artworks” on their own because below each work in its collection, there are links to artworks by the same artist, by category, decade, style, and subject — in many variations. For Thatched Roofs, for example, there are seasons, trees, places, architecture, towns-scapes, etc. etc. Finally, there’s a link to Context — gifts and bequests. That one seemed too formidable for me to explore right now.

I wonder how people are using this information and this site. Not to worry. The Tate does too. In fact, before exploring any of this, I was presented with one question asking me why I came to the site, so that the Tate could improve it. My choices, abbreviated, were: to plan a visit; to find specific information for research or professional reasons; to find information for personal reasons; for casual browsing; or to book a place at an event/program.

It’s simple: Do I need to say that both feature are good ideas? Go explore.

Photo Credit: Gardening, Natalya Goncharova, 1908, Courtesy of the Tate



  1. First off, thanks for bringing this to our attention. I tried it and found it informative and FUN! Would be interested to know who makes those ‘editorial’ type choices (curatorial and/or marketing/communications or jointly), and what man-power is required to get such a system up and running. Cost factor might be an issue for institutions without the deep pockets of those mentioned in your piece. Just some, ‘food for thought.”

  2. You said “Go explore,” and I did. Very interesting! A great resource for research and personal pleasure. Thanks for posting.

  3. Thanks very much for highlighting this, Judith. I too agree that it is a very good idea. It demonstrates an educational bent to the collection data base, something that is sorely lacking in this belated marriage of art and information technology. Database technology allows these relationships to be explored quite easily, so I’m glad to see museums taking advantage of it.
    Since I know that the Tate has a very strong Learning team and focus, I would suggest that it is a collaboration among the Learning & Curatorial & IT teams. I am surprised that Peter saw a marketing connection. IMHO, I do not believe marketing in most museums would have any interest in this tool.
    It was interesting me that when I clicked through to a third level image (Joan Gonzalez) of an artist I didn’t know; all the remaining “other works of interest” were hers only. It turned out to be a good way of highlighting the depth of their collection of her works.

  4. Perhaps ‘communications’ or ‘external affairs’ could be used in place of ‘marketing.’ Anyone overseeing those areas should have an interest simply because it is provided by a civic institution to be shared with its community—geographically and/or interest-wise. Moreover, such activity should be woven into the institution’s public advocacy and communications. Awareness and recognition of educational or community services leads to support–political, social, financial, etc.–all needed to maintain a thriving and vibrant institution.

an ArtsJournal blog