N subclass for installation art

Email received from Faye Leibowitz, Pitt (29 Nov. 2010):




I am writing to you because you are the Chair of the ARLIS/NA Cataloging Advisory Committee.


Do you think that there is enough precedent to develop an LC Class N subclass for Installation art?


A large number of the art exhibition catalogs that I catalog are for exhibitions of installation art by special artists. In terms of classification, these usually wind up somewhere in N6501-7414 because they are not limited to  a single category of painting, architecture, sculpture, etc.


I think that N6501-7414 is useful for catalogs of the works of artists that include (for example) both paintings AND sculpture by that artist. But it seems to me that these should not be interfiled with installation art, which is a specific “new” genre (although it has existed for many years) that incorporates aspects of (for example) painting, sculpture, video, music, etc.


Most of the catalogs describe the exhibition as an installation, so these would not be confused with the more traditional collections of art in a variety of media.


It would be nice for library users to be able to identify catalogs (and other materials) relating to installation art in a discrete subclass (NF???)


Do you have any thoughts about this?


Thanks very much.


Best wishes,


Faye Leibowitz

General Languages Catalog Librarian

University Library System

University of Pittsburgh



SC response (30 November 2010):


Dear Faye--

It has never occurred to me that installation art would be better classified in a separate N subclass. I'm more "worried" about the sloppy and ubiquitous use of the term. It seems to me that about half of current art might fit into installation; that is, it is perhaps the predominant medium of 21st-century art. Rather than splitting it off from N, I guess I think it's better in N.

Do you follow the arlis-cpdg list? (cpdg = cataloging problems discussion group) If you do, you might want to pose the question there. If you don't, you can certainly subscribe or I'd be happy to share your question with a request to email you directly as well as the list.

I'm trying to remember if I was troubled in my early cataloging days with mixed media which was a sort of subclass but mostly got classified in N unless the artist clearly told us s/he thought of it as painting, sculpture, or drawing.

I'll keep mulling this over (and will probably add it to my review of the year) but my initial thought is not to request a new subclass. Julia Wisniewski who has a decade or more of art cataloging experience and who now works at LC reads arlis-cpdg (and ARLIS-L) and often responds on cataloging matters.

Thanks for bringing up the issue and I hope you'll think about sending a message to arlis-cpdg.



FL response (1 December 2010):




Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.


I guess it is precisely BECAUSE “about half of current art might fit into installation; that is, it is perhaps the predominant medium of 21st-century art” that I am thinking that it might need to be identified by a special classification number. This will make it easier to find materials for study of the topic from a historical perspective in the future.


But I am definitely NOT an expert in the field of Art History  so I will defer to you and the other experts on this topic.


I may eventually subscribe to arlis-cpdg list, but please feel free to post my question to the list.


Best wishes,