Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Hosts the World's Largest Art Exhibition with the Launch of The Thinker

Erin Garcia
Assistant Director of Communications
tel: 415.750.8904 cell: 510.364.1304
Maureen Keefe
Director of Marketing and Communications
tel: 415.750.8903 cell: 415.246.3099

(www.thinker.org) San Francisco, CA, January 18, 1997-With the launch of The Thinker, The Fine Arts Museums' unique new Web site with a searchable database that unveils over 63,300 images, the museum became the first in the world to catalog a significant portion of its artwork on the Internet. In the first quarter since The Thinker's September 1996 launch, it has had over 10,000,000 raw hits, one million pages viewed, and over 500,000 searches conducted. The site was named for The Thinker, Auguste Rodin's signal bronze sculpture of circa 1880, which sits in the center of the Legion of Honor's courtyard. "By offering its collection on the Internet, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are leading the way for all cities with major museums to give the public free access for education and enjoyment," said Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., of San Francisco. "I suspect that The Thinker's success will lead to other museums sharing their artworks with the rest of the world via the Internet." With 60,000 drawings, prints, engravings, watercolors, and photo-graphs, The Thinker represents the entirety of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, the prints and drawings department of the Fine Arts Museums. The total database of The Thinker comprises the largest group of artwork available on a single site and is the first step toward the institution's goal of displaying its entire collection online and becoming more of a resource and less of a repository. "The California Palace of the Legion of Honor and the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum collections are enormous. We can exhibit only three to four percent of the collection at any one time, while the rest remains in storage," said Harry S. Parker III, Director of Museums. "We're using the Internet to give everyone full access, to let them discover artwork they might not otherwise see." The Thinker Features The Thinker's huge collection database, easy-to-use search engine and intuitive user interface distinguish it from other museums' Web sites. Users can navigate through the collection database using their personal interests as their guide. Students, educators and art enthusiasts alike may search the database by conventional methods (title, artist, media), unconven-tional methods (content, adjectives, actions), or on a tour led by a museum curator. Along with practical information, the site includes exhibition schedules, guided tours, collection summaries, complete teachers' guides to American and African art, and hundreds of student poems about objects from the collections. Bringing Art To People Robert Futernick, chairman of the Fine Arts Museums' conservation departments, sees a link between the history of printmaking and the increased access made possible by the Internet. Historically, because works on paper were available in editions, they made exposure to fine art possible to people beyond the upper echelon of society. The museums' Web site expands on that tradition. "The Thinker restores the original purpose of these works on paper: to democratize fine art through increased distribution, to make art more readily available to people," said Futernick. Parker also expects that extended distribution and wider exposure will stimulate interest in seeking out the original artwork, which will increase attendance at the museums. "We see this project as a way of bringing art to the people of the Bay Area and the world, and hope, in turn, that it will bring them to us." Time Put to Good Use The Legion of Honor was renovated, expanded and seismically upgraded from 1992 to 1995. The closure of the building and relocation of staff and collections to off-site locations during this period created the opportunity for a comprehensive collection management project. Building on the work done to upgrade inventory records and improve conservation, Futernick initiated a program to catalog and digitize the works on paper for the Internet, making some of the most impressive artworks in the collection available for the first time. He and his staff first established a preliminary database, then used bar coding to link records in the database to the actual artworks. The prints and drawings were photographed and then digitized. During this time when normal museum activities were suspended, a selection of European paintings, sculpture and tapestries was loaned to museums in Japan and Australia. The $500,000 raised from this tour funded the digitization project that resulted in The Thinker. Increasing the Database At the beginning of 1997, the Fine Arts Museums increased the size of The Thinker's original 60,000-object database, adding 2000 European ceramic objects, 500 European glass objects, and 800 European paintings from the Legion's collections. Currently, the museum's European decorative arts and sculpture and the ancient art collections are being added to the database. According to Robert Futernick, once these objects are on the Internet, the next collection to be addressed will be the 1200 American paintings housed at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. "Our ultimate goal, funding permitting," he said, "is to eventually create images on the Internet of all the Fine Arts Museums' 120,000 works of art."