Interview with Laurence Rassel, Núria Solé Bardalet and Jesús Marull (Fundació Antoni Tàpies)

Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, November 30, 2012

The Fundació Antoni Tàpies was created in 1984 by the artist Antoni Tàpies to promote the study and knowledge of modern and contemporary art. It combines the functions of a museum, an art and cultural centre and a library. The Fundació Antoni Tàpies organises temporary exhibitions, workshops, lectures, concerts, performances, workshops and film programmes with a range of publications to go with the activities and periodic shows of Antoni Tàpies' work. It owns one of the most complete collections of Tàpies’ work, mostly made up of donations by the artist and his wife Teresa Barba.

Rony Vissers of PACKED vzw (Brussels), the centre of expertise in digital heritage that is coordinating DCA, talked to Laurence Rassel (director, Fundació Antoni Tàpies), Núria Solé Bardalet (archives and documentation, Fundació Antoni Tàpies) and Jesús Marull (technical conservation, Fundació Antoni Tàpies) about the digitisation of Antoni Tàpies’ artist’s books within the framework of the DCA project.

1. Antoni Tàpies and the Fundació Antoni Tàpies
2. Antoni Tàpies' artist's books
3. The digitisation of Tàpies’ artist’s books (1)
4. The digitisation of Tàpies’ artist’s books (2)
5. Scanning vs. photographing, internal vs. external digitisation
6. Subcontracting
7. The actual digitisation
8. Digitisation costs
9. Copyright and other legal issues

1. Antoni Tàpies and the Fundació Antoni Tàpies

PACKED: The Fundació Antoni Tàpies differs from the other DCA content partners in that the institution is dedicated to one artist: Antoni Tàpies. Who was he?

Laurence Rassel: Antoni Tàpiesa was a Catalan artist who was born in Barcelona in 1923 and died recently, in February 2012. One of the remarkable things about him is that he did not follow a typical artist’s career. He didn't go to art school and therefore didn't receive artist training. His first artistic attempts were made during a long convalescence following a serious illness. Afterwards he increased his dedication to drawing and painting and definitively abandoned his university studies. He educated himself as an artist during the Franco dictatorship, a very specific time and context. What is interesting for this interview is that Antoni Tàpies' artistic self-instruction principally occurred in a library. An important part of his knowledge of art came from books and magazines; another came from looking, for instance, at Romanic paintings and the influence of contemporary artists such as Joan Miró or Paul Klee. The relationship with his past or even present through books and other printed publications was important for him. In 1948 he was one of the founding members of the Dau al Set magazine, and throughout his whole life he wrote numerous essays in parallel to his artistic production. He always had a close relationship with books, writers, poets and so on.

PACKED: What were his influences as an artist?

Laurence Rassel: When Antoni Tàpies was young, he was heavily influenced by Surrealism, especially through magazines and also books. The French Surrealists, as well as Spanish artists like Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso, influenced him. What these artists had in common was a kind of universal knowledge of the world. Artists like, for instance, André Breton or Paul Klee, also had their own collection of art from all over the world; they wrote poetry, were interested in modern science, psychoanalysis and so on. Antoni Tàpies was interested in the philosophy of Heidegger and Sartre, and in Eastern philosophy. He considered artists to be those who were connected to all sciences, including art. He did not make a distinction between the knowledge of science and the knowledge of art. For Antoni Tàpies the artist was a humanist.

Because of his interest in avant-garde movements like Surrealism and Dadaism and also in Oriental art he detached himself from everything that he considered academic. For him quitting academic art meant dumping the painter’s easel and starting to work on the floor, as well as using materials such as heavily textured canvases which had great expressive and communicative possibilities. In the 1960s, he began incorporating new iconographic elements: writing, signs, anthropomorphic elements, footprints and references to the Catalan situation. At the same time he also started using new technical methods, new surfaces, everyday objects and varnish. He entered in direct contact with the material by using his hands, feet, brushes and anything else that could be used for the creation of his artworks.

Shuzo Takiguchi and Antoni Tàpies. Llambrec material, 1975. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

PACKED: Why did Antoni Tàpies decide to start the Fundació Antoni Tàpies?b

Laurence Rassel: Antoni Tàpies decided to create the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in 1984. In the foundation charter he set two goals for the institution: one was to promote modern and contemporary art and culture, the other was to promote his own work.

In 1984 there were no museums for contemporary art in Barcelona but the Fundació Joan Miró already existed. That institution was a model but while it was mostly dedicated to Miró and his work, Tàpies wanted to open a space for contemplation, reflection and learning. His aim was to create a space for thinking and seeing. The Fundació Antoni Tàpies takes a plural, interdisciplinary approach, aiming to set up cooperative ventures with experts in different fields of learning in order to contribute to a better understanding of contemporary art and culture.

When the Fundació Antoni Tàpies finally opened in 1990, there was the collection of artworks that he had donated and a library. Today the collection contains artworks from around 1945 until shortly before his death. At first the library was mostly dedicated to the largest archive on Tàpies’ work, publications on Asian and Pre-Columbian arts and culture as well as on the arts from Africa and Oceania that had such a great influence on the evolution of twentieth century art. Since then it has evolved into a library that focusses on contemporary art although architecture, design, the decorative arts, photography, film and video are also represented. The library is also a working space.

For Antoni Tàpies it was clear that it is important to disseminate different kinds of knowledge: not only about his work but also about what was important to his work, as well as his contemporaries’ work. He was born in the 1920s and died at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. This means that the scope of his contemporaries is large, from the Surrealists to performance artists. The Fundació Antoni Tàpies therefore covers a wide range of expertise, including different art forms and art periods.

The artist’s book Nocturn matinal (Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies, 1970) in a collection exhibition at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Photograph: PACKED vzw

The artist’s book Nocturn matinal (Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies, 1970) in a collection exhibition at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Photograph: PACKED vzw

2. Antoni Tàpies' artist's books

PACKED: Why did you decide to digitise Tàpies’ artist’s books within the framework of the DCA project?

Laurence Rassel: One reason is that we aim to make the whole collection of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies publicly accessible. Unfortunately, some parts of the collection are still less visible, especially the artist’s books. If a book is shown in an exhibition, visitors can usually view one or two pages but they can't access the rest of the book. Although each page can be considered as an autonomous work, they cannot fully experience the book as an artwork. We digitise the artist’s books within the framework of the DCA project because they are less accessible than our other artworks, from the collection, which are regularly exhibited at our institution. Every three or four months we have a new collection exhibition. All aspects of Antoni Tàpies’ work are on display. The second reason we are digitising Antoni Tàpies' artist's books within the framework of DCA is related to the copyright situation. We have the permission to display and reproduce his artworks and we do hold the rights on the reproductions.

Beside our exhibitions we also work in parallel on the Fundació Antoni Tàpies archive. We're digitising the archive and in the project Arts combinatòries – Lloc d'educació, exposició I recercac are making the documentation that is connected to all other projects that the Fundació Antoni Tàpies does publicly accessible. In these other projects we work with other artists as well as Antoni Tàpies. Unfortunately, we do not always hold the copyright on the material and therefore don't always have the permission to publish these other artists' work.

PACKED: Where does the interest in the archive come from?

Laurence Rassel: On the occasion of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies’ twentieth anniversary we started reflecting upon our own existence: what in fact is the Fundació Antoni Tàpies? To define its future, we re-visited the past. We looked at the archive, not that of the artist Antoni Tàpies but that of the institution. We studied how we worked in the past in order to better understand and communicate what the Fundació’s legacy may be. Opening up the archive means that we can put it in the perspective of the aesthetic, economical and political changes that have occurred over the last twenty years. It seemed a good moment to start digitising the archival documents and to provide online access to them. We do not only want to make the reproductions of the works in our collection accessible online, but also the exhibition views, the conference recordings and the documents that have been created or received during the preparation of these events. When we organise an exhibition, we have loan forms, technical drawings, letters or emails between the artists, curators and the director, budget overviews and texts. In the paper era those documents were archived in a box when the exhibition came to an end. Later we stated printing important electronic documents which were also archived in a box. In 2009 we started digitising the content of these boxes. This digitisation process created a lot of technical and legal questions, not only about copyright issues but also, for instance, about privacy issues.

PACKED: What is the importance of the artist’s books within Tàpies’ overall body of work?

Laurence Rassel: The artist’s books were really important for Tàpies. They offered him the opportunity to work in a medium that was very dear to him. Books were part of his natural environment. In his house there is a studio and a library. Both were working places. Tàpies was always working in his library. The possibility of adding some of his own books to the universal library was really important for him.

Tàpies was a book collector and so knew the specificity of the medium particularly well: the size and volume of a book, turning its pages, and so on. For him it was important to be able to work with the materiality or the specificity of the book medium.

Tàpies’ artist’s books are part of a certain tradition. There are books by Marcel Duchamp, the Surrealists and many other modern and contemporary artists who also explored the book form as well. In the past the Fundació Antoni Tàpies dedicated a special exhibition exclusively to his books.d We consider them to be an autonomous body of work.

PACKED: The artist’s books also offer a kind of point of entry into the rest of Tàpies’ work.

Laurence Rassel: The books that Tàpies created in collaboration with poets, narrators, philosophers and scientists are the culmination of one of the most intense visual qualities of his work. They are writings that are not based on words - although they too are often incorporated - but on any expression of a material: presence of the body in the form of footprints or handprints, figures, hieroglyphics, crosses, letters from an non-existent alphabet, signatures, palimpsests, scribbles and so on.

In the artist’s books, as in his drawings, Tàpies emphasises the expressive values of material and frequently uses paper with strongly marked textures, paper that has been violently torn and crumpled or stained, scraped or pierced. Forcing the materials has been a feature of Tàpies’ work method. His experiments with the book format provide a universe of forms and textures that enrich and extend both the material experiments and the poetic and philosophical content of his work as a whole.

Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies. Carrer de Wagner, 1988. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Octavio Paz and Antoni Tàpies. Petrificada petrificante, 1978. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

PACKED: It is specific of Antoni Tàpies that he created his books in collaboration with poets and writers.

Laurence Rassel: Creating these books offered him the opportunity to collaborate with poets and writers. This was important for him because he was a writer himself, not of poetry but of essays. Often his writing was a reflection on subjects like, for instance, art practice or the position of the artist in a contemporary world in transition.

PACKED: Books are also intimate objects.

Laurence Rassel: The intimacy of the object is another important aspect. You can open the book on a table and browse through its pages. This intimate relationship is not always possible with, for instance, a painting; you do not touch the painting. Of course you can touch it but you don't.

Antoni Tàpies worked with objects, creating sculptures, paintings, drawings, engravings and lithographic prints. The book was another type of object.

Núria Solé Bardalet: Usually the artist’s books were published in very small editions: forty or sixty copies. Some books were also in a kind of facsimile edition. Not a real facsimile edition because they were also printed lithographically but probably the quality of the paper is different and not as good. It's a cheaper edition.

Laurence Rassel: A facsimile edition is only one way of giving a larger group of people access to the entire book. Digitisation is another. We now focus on digitisation, which can provide people with online access to the books. Antoni Tàpies also spoke at a certain moment about access to art through reproductions.e He was concerned about the fact that artworks were becoming too expensive for people to buy and possess in order to have access. The sensation of actually living with art was important. At that time it was considered necessary to have artworks at home in order to have a kind of direct relationship with them. Graphic work was a way of bringing art to the people. It provided a possibility of entering people's homes . Since the introduction of the Internet the situation is different. For Tàpies the idea of intimacy was important. A painting is a unique artwork and could only be hung in one house. If he made an artist’s book in an edition of forty copies, he could enter into forty homes. The fact that you have to turn the pages also forces you as a reader into a kind of intimate relationship with the artwork that you don’t have, for instance, with an etching. We would like to translate these ideas into digital form.

3. The digitisation of Tàpies’ artist’s books (1)

PACKED: What do you have to take into account when digitising Tàpies’ artist books and making them publicly accessible online?

Jesús Marull: The first thing to take into account is the technical specificities of these artworks. In fact, digitising is not adequate with these artworks. The reason is that each one of them is special in terms of format, technique, paper, sequencing and so on. Antoni Tàpies explored every different artistic possibility in terms of the book as medium. Some books are in relief. Others include a collage. Different materials are used and not all books are made of the same ones. Each book is really specific. This means that the digitisation process becomes complex because it has to make these details of relief, material and so on visible.

PACKED: Compared to the digitisation of other types of books, for instance incunables, the challenge of your digitisation process is to try to find a way to translate the look and feel of the book. Not only the content of the book is important but also the reader’s experience of it.

Jesús Marull: That is exactly the point. The challenge is not to digitally capture what is visible but to digitally translate how you perceive the books. The perception and the sensation of the books are key to the digitisation process.

This is also the reason why the Fundació Antoni Tàpies wants to digitise these artist’s books. When we show them in the exhibition rooms of our museum, we can only show them behind glass, in a display case. The exhibition visitor can unfortunately only see one or two pages, while the perception of the books is based on the relationship between every one of itspages . Of course, this is always the case with books. However, when you compare the manipulation of, e.g., medieval manuscripts to that of Antoni Tàpies' artist's books, there is an important difference.

PACKED: Can you explain this difference a little more?

Jesús Marull: For Antoni Tàpies the material used for the creation of the books was very important. It's something you can also see in his other artworks. As a visual artist he was always working with such materials.

If you take a closer look at some of his books, you will see things that are very similar to a bas-relief but which are actually created by printing instead of sculpting techniques. To make this relief visible, one has to use the right lighting set-up. You cannot use the standard one because it will make the image look flat. The book page will look like a print or a photograph but not a bas-relief. So each time we have to look for the right lighting set-up in order to make the relief visible.

Núria Solé Bardalet: When we digitise the books, we constantly have to play with lighting. We often have to change it from one page to another.

Octavio Paz and Antoni Tàpies. Petrificada petrificante, 1978. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies. Frègoli, 1969. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

PACKED: This is an important difference with the digitisation of other book types, for which you have to try and hide the light, whereas here you have to make the light visible because it's the only way to show the relief.

Jesús Marull: The lighting can even change the perception of the artist’s books. Photographing these books is always a kind of work-in-progress. We have to find interesting ways to look at the books. The way we do so tells us how to make the photographic reproductions. For every page, or maybe we should say every work because every page is in fact a work in itself, we have to find the correct lighting set-up. Such a choice might depend on the presence of a relief, a collage, a cut or something that is torn from the page. This might change from one page to another. As Núria said, every time we have to change the lighting set-up. It cannot remain the same for all reproductions. For every page we need to check how to look at it. This is the basic requirement for finding ways of making things like reliefs, collages and cuts visible and subsequently making the reproduction. Take for example the book page on which Antoni Tàpies glued a stamp. When you digitise this page, you have to change the lighting set-up and maybe even the distance to make it clear that the stamp is glued on the page and not printed. Photographing these artist’s books is often more similar to photographing sculptures and other three-dimensional artworks than to photographing other book types.

PACKED: I've often noticed multiple surface layers in the books. I saw, for instance, a book cover on which pieces of newspaper were glued above which there was another layer consisting of thick paint stains.

Jesús Marull: Through digitisation we try to show these kind of details and manipulations. They are the type of thing that you normally cannot see or experience properly in an exhibition. Our challenge is to find a suitable way of making them perceptible and appreciable. One often has to compare one book to another in order to understand and appreciate what exactly is happening in them. In an exhibition one usually gets to see one of the books and not several, often just one or two pages. Digitisation might make it possible to circumvent these exhibition limitations.

However, even through digitisation it is often impossible to make such details and manipulations visible in one photograph. We frequently need several images to make the subtleties visible in, for instance, the collage, wrinkling, cuts, size and printing technique of one page. This is one of the reasons why the digitisation of these books cannot be automated or serialised.

Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies. Nocturn matinal, 1970. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies. Nocturn matinal, 1970. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

PACKED: Moreover, there are not only the book covers and pages but also boxes in which the artist’s books are stored. Did Antoni Tàpies himself produce these boxes manually?

Jesús Marull: Yes, the artist himself produced them. The boxes are part of the artworks and thus need to be photographed. The books and their boxes are handmade. They are all original pieces, although they were produced in editions.

Laurence Rassel: We make several photographs of the boxes. We photograph them from different angles, with and without the book, open and closed.

Jesús Marull: We've already discussed some of the specificities caused by the materials and the techniques that were used by Antoni Tàpies. Beside these there is also the format that considerably changes from one book to another. Some books also contain gatefold spreads. These consist of two or more pages that require unfolding before digitisation. The gatefold spreads and format changes create another complexity. Sometimes Antoni Tàpies also inserted objects inside the books, and these again had another format. As in his paintings, he re-used everyday objects in his artist’s books. As an artist he was always taking advantage of the accidental, of what could happen. Even amongst the different copies of the edition of one book you can find differences. He did work on the fact, for instance, that the paper wrinkles and that the collages are different.

Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies. Nocturn matinal, 1970. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies. Nocturn matinal, 1970. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies. Nocturn matinal, 1970. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

4. The digitisation of Tàpies’ artist’s books (2)

PACKED: Until now we have talked about the individual pages, the book cover and the boxes. Another aspect is the way the pages are sequenced and how you browse through them. Have you considered this?

Núria Solé Bardalet: We're working on it. We try to reproduce the experience of the reader. For some pages we zoom in because when you read such books you usually need to focus on specific parts. We zoom in on those we consider interesting. We also try to recreate the sensation of turning the pages. We also have to take into account the scale of the pages, the cuts and other details. This entails new complexities.

PACKED: Are these complexities different from the digitisation of other types of artworks?

Laurence Rassel: They are. Compared to the digitisation of these artist’s books, the digitisation of drawings or the paintings is easy. It's like a puzzle. Time after time we have to look for the best way to photograph the books and their pages. It takes us more time to digitise an artist’s book than a painting. First, we have to find the best way to photograph each page. Often we have to make several photographs of one page. Second, every artist’s book contains multiple pages. Third, we also have to photograph the front and back cover and the book's spine. Fourth, there is also the box that needs to be photographed from different angles. Last but not least, all the different images have to be put together and sequenced in such a way that the reader does not only have a three-dimensional impression of the book but also the sensation of manipulating it.

Núria Solé Bardalet: Still, there are similarities. We consider both his paintings and artist’s books as three-dimensional objects, and this meansthat we always have to find the right lighting set-up in both cases to bring out the details. We usually photograph paintings vertically and books horizontally. That is the main difference.

The digitisation of a painting is often easier than the digitisation of an artist’s book. For the painting I just have to call the photographer and he takes care of it. For the artist’s book I have to attend the digitisation process and take all decisions. I have to tell the photographer, for instance, how we want to show the book pages with the cuts, and therefore also tell him how to photograph them.

Laurence Rassel: However, it can take more time setting up a painting for digitisation. The digitisation of the artist’s books has a lot in common with that of interactive artworks. You need to manipulate the artwork during digitisation and you have to take several images.

The box of one of Antoni Tàpies' artist's books. Photograph: PACKED vzw

PACKED: Once you have photographed all the book pages in a high quality resolution you still have to sequence them.

Núria Solé Bardalet: I do not think that compiling the pages into PDF files is the best way to present these books. The plan is to develop a software application that allows you to see the book pages but at the same time also to read information about the pages alongside. You will also see the colour card that we have photographed together with the book. This will allow you to calibrate your screen and obtain a correct image of the artist’s books. The J. Paul Getty Museum has already developed such a software application. We have seen it and we like it. f We'd like to use this software tool to visualise Tàpies’ artist’s books. We'd like to show browsing through the books, one page after another, but would prefer not to use the software that makes the page turning look identical. That is not the best way to deal with these books.

Laurence Rassel: We'd prefer to make a realistic sensation of the books possible. There are also some other things that we would like to do with the software application. If there is a poem in the book, we'd like to offer a translation of it. We'd also like to offer the reader the possibility of leaving comments and so on. The artist’s books should be available in a digital form in order to work with them, and link them to other artist’s books, artworks and texts by Tàpies.

What is interesting is that Antoni Tàpies himself decided to photograph his artworks from the beginning of his career, to have some documentation on them. It is interesting to see how the official and correct picture of a work is changing through time. First all photographic reproductions were in black and white, later everything was photographed in colour. It was done using analogue film. Now everything is digital and we try to develop interactive applications.

PACKED: Will the interactive applications be made available online?

Laurence Rassel: Yes, and the user will only have to register if he or she wants to do things like manipulating the image or leaving a comment. We are allowed to do this because it's part of the core mission of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies.

PACKED: Does this approach also effect the cataloguing? If a book is an entity that consists of many parts like the front and back cover, the spine, the pages and the box, how do you deal with this complexity when cataloguing the artist’s books? Do you just catalogue them or also their different components?

Núria Solé Bardalet: We catalogue the books but for some of them also their components: lithographic prints, engravings and so on.

Laurence Rassel: Each book already has a kind of technical record: the names of the authors, the number of copies, the paper type, the number of engravings, the presence of a collage and so on.

Pere Gimferrer and Antoni Tàpies. La clau de foc, 1973. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

5. Scanning vs. photographing, internal vs. external digitisation

PACKED: Could you briefly explain why you decided to photograph Tàpies’ artist's books instead of scanning them?

Núria Solé Bardalet: There are several reasons for this. As we've already explained, we do not only have to able to change the lighting set-up but also to capture the boxes, books and sometimes even their pages in different positions. This isn't not possible with, for example, a flatbed scanner.

Another complication is that the paper is handmade, that Antoni Tàpies created reliefs and also that the boxes, books and book pages can not always be photographed in a horizontal position. This requires a certain depth of of depth that we cannot get through scanning.

The light of most scanners is also not suitable for scanning these kind of artworks. It could harm the artist’s books.

PACKED: Why should the digitisation be done in-house?

Laurence Rassel: This is obvious because the artworks are are preserved in this building. We digitise the artist’s books in the room in which they are stored. It is the perfect environment because of the lighting, humidity and temperature conditions. It has a special fire protection system. We also store Tàpies' drawings and graphic works in the same room.

There are also always staff around in the museum. They keep an eye on the artist’s books during the digitisation process, manipulate the books while the photographers capture them, check the results, put the books back in the boxes and then on the shelves. This would become much more complicated if the digitisation was done elsewhere.

The shelves with some of Antoni Tàpies' artist's books in the storage room at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Photograph: PACKED vzw

PACKED: Does this also mean that the Fundació Antoni Tàpies never loans artist’s books to other institutions?

Laurence Rassel: We do but only to other museums because they know how to take care of these artworks.

Núria Solé Bardalet: The insurance costs are very high when the books leave our institution.

Laurence Rassel: We treat the books in the same way as all of Antoni Tàpies' other artworks when we loan them to another museum. There is always a specialised courier. A staff member always travels with the artworks and books to check the temperature, humidity and lighting conditions. The paper of the artist’s books is really fragile. This is also why he or she needs to check whether the packaging is done correctly and with respect for the works.

PACKED: The situation is similar to that of other museums that have a collection of, for instance, drawings and decide not to send them to a digitisation lab but to digitise them in their own building.

Laurence Rassel: Indeed, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium also subcontracted a photographer to digitise their drawings in-house.

6. Subcontracting

PACKED: Does the Fundació Antoni Tàpies work with a subcontractor for the digitisation?

Laurence Rassel: We have decided to collaborate with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia which recently started a master’s degree in photography. They are really concerned about the quality of photography and the conservation of photographs. Their expertise does not only deal with how to photograph. They collaborate with museums and discuss the preservation and conservation of their photographs, and also their cataloguing.

Núria Solé Bardalet: Prior to the DCA project we collaborated with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia on the digitisation of ten other artist’s books by Antoni Tàpies.

Laurence Rassel: We have been working on our archival project since 2009. It is amazing to see how quickly photography is evolving technically. The whole medium is becoming digital. Through the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia we have access to new digital technology. They are in contact with providers of, for instance, scanners and cameras to offer their students the possibility of using them. When we decided to participate in DCA we did not know how we were going to do the digitisation. We thought that DCA would be a good opportunity to exchange experience and knowledge about new digital techniques with the photography department of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia. It offers both of us the chance to learn together.

PACKED: Why is this process of learning together important for you?

Laurence Rassel: We are a public institution. Learning together, sharing knowledge and expertise is very important for us because it is part of our ecosystem. When considering digitisation costs, the principles of economy and cost-efficiency are important but one should not make the mistake of understanding such terms in a narrow way, and purely for the short term. Sustainability, and therefore also the ecosystem of the public memory institution that we are, is also important. It is frustrating that funding bodies sometimes do not understand or value the importance of this.

Collaborating with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia allows people to learn with us and for us to learn with them. It is also cheaper than collaborating with other photographers.

Núria Solé Bardalet taking care of one of Antoni Tàpies' artist's books. Photograph: PACKED vzw

Núria Solé Bardalet taking care of one of Antoni Tàpies' artist's books. Photograph: PACKED vzw

PACKED: Does the Fundació Antoni Tàpies also work with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia on the digitisation of other parts of its collection?

Núria Solé Bardalet: The other parts of the collection are digitised in collaboration with other subcontractors. We usually work with Martí Gasull, a company based in Barcelona. For the artist’s books we decided to collaborate with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia because prices were lower and because it provided us with the opportunity of learning from each other.

Laurence Rassel: Because the digitisation of artist’s books is not an easy process, we need people who are able and willing to think together with us. The people from the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia come to see and discuss the work prior to digitisation. Finding and adjusting the right lighting set-up takes time. Often it is even difficult to predict in advance how long the digitisation of one artist’s book will exactly take.

Núria Solé Bardalet: Of course the photographers know technically how to digitise artworks but I know the artist's books and other works of Antoni Tàpies better than they do. I know which details are important and have to tell them what exactly we want to show. Take the example of a book page with a cut or piercing. The photographer and I need to discuss how to photograph such a page. In a way we have to play with the book to see the different ways of perceiving a page. Sometimes we need to put things between the pages to show the depth of the hole. We often need to take more than one photograph of such a page in order to show what exactly is going on. The details are important.

Laurence Rassel: Such knowledge of details links them to other artworks, music, writing and politics. Unfortunately, visitors often do not have the possibility to perceive all such details in an exhibition. There are some recurrent themes in Tàpies’ artworks. Focussing on them allows one access to a richer understanding of Tàpies’ work. Attention to significant details is also one of the reasons why the digitisation of artist’s books cannot be automatised or serialised. It can never become a standardised, assembly line-like production.

7. The actual digitisation

PACKED: The DCA project is the start of a transition process to full digitalisation for the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. For a long time you photographed your collection on colour reversal film and then scanned the slides.

During the DCA project we also digitised fifteen of the twenty-five books with a digital camera. We started this transition because through our collaboration with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia we had access to high quality digital cameras. Also the experiences of other DCA partners with the use of digital cameras convinced us to take this step. We started the DCA digitisation process by photographing the books with a Hasselblad.

PACKED: Why did you stick to the use of the analogue camera alongside the digital one?

Núria Solé Bardalet: Digital preservation is still a completely new field for us. As a traditional memory institution we are used to the preservation of material objects. We know exactly how to preserve slide film but like many other art institutions are still learning how to preserve digital files. The idea behind our choice was that if something went wrong with our digital storage during the DCA project or in the coming years, we would still have the slides as a back up. We keep the slides for archival purposes. We have slides of all of Tàpies’ original works. We want to be sure that we will be able to save something for the future. The slides can be scanned if something goes wrong with the digital storage. The DCA project is not a digital preservation project but we can’t escape from the digital preservation issues. We believe that we currently have a good and trustworthy digital infrastructure but it is still relatively new. We need more time to be sure that we have the digital storage risks completely under control.

Boxes with reproductions on slide film in the storage room at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Photograph: PACKED vzw

PACKED: How did you decide on the technical parameters for the digitisation, for instance the choice of file format, bit depth, colour space and resolution?

Núria Solé Bardalet: The Universidad Politécnica de Valencia suggested the technical parameters. We studied them and then discussed them with other museums. We also had the experience of our other digitisation projects. The technical parameters are very similar to those we use for the digitisation of Antoni Tàpies' other artworks.

Laurence Rassel: They also made some tests and we studied the results. Sandra Fortó and Núria Homs, the conservators of Antoni Tàpies' work, also checked the quality of the reproductions.

PACKED: You made a video of the digitisation process. It is available on the DCA website. Can you briefly explain what we see in the video?

Núria Solé Bardalet: Since the beginning of the project we've tried to find ways of showing the singularity of the digitisation of Antoni Tàpies' artist’s books . We thought that video would be the best medium to give a visual impression of our digitisation process. Itwas made in the room in which we store and digitise the artist’s books. It shows how we have to manipulate the books during the digitisation process and also the equipment that we use.

The day before a digitisation session, we prepare the room, the books, the lights and the table on which the books are to be digitised. Due to the size of the books, we sometimes also have to put them on the floor in order to have enough distance to capture them entirely.

During the digitisation session, there are three persons present in the room: the photographer, the assistant and myself. My main role is to take care of the books: to unwrap and prepare them, to flip the pages, to decide how to photograph the details, to wrap and store them and so on. My task is very similar to that of a curator’s. I workin collaboration with the photographer and I also help his assistant.

In the video we wear white cotton gloves to avoid damaging the books. You see us unwrapping and wrapping the boxes, taking books out of the them, flipping the pages, placing marks, shooting the image and so on. The photography is done with flashlight. You can also see that the books differ greatly in terms of size and that some are clumsy to handle due to their mass, format and structure. Some of the books are more like folders containing large paper prints. We always photograph a colour card together with the book. This offers us a reference for colour correction and calibration. You can see the combination of texts and visual elements, sometimes the relief and also the fragility and roughness of the handmade paper. The photo camera used for digitisation in the video is a digital one.

Digitising artist's books at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Video: Fundació Antoni Tàpies.

8. Digitisation costs

PACKED: If you cannot compare the digitisation process of these artist’s books to the digitisation of other books, it also becomes difficult to compare digitisation costs.

Laurence Rassel: Unfortunately, this seems to be a mistake that the European Commission as a funding body risks making. It tries to compare our digitisation costs to those per book page in library digitisation projects and studies. We think that it makes more sense to compare our digitisation costs to, for instance, that of digitising drawings. However, even if you digitise a folder of drawings you will probably never encounter the complexity that we face here with the artist’s book. You probably wouldn't have to photograph and light the drawings and folder from different angles.

Núria Solé Bardalet: Maybe we should compare the digitisation costs of Antoni Tàpies’ artist’s book to those of paintings or sculptures because the books also need to be photographed as three-dimensional objects.

Laurence Rassel: Compared to most other books it is not only necessary to digitise the content but also the carrier. The paper is different from one book to another. It is handmade and its quality, colour and texture varies. They might change from one page to another, and also from one book to another – even if they are produced in a series.

Núria Solé Bardalet taking care of one of Antoni Tàpies' artist's books. Photograph: PACKED vzw

Núria Solé Bardalet taking care of one of Antoni Tàpies' artist's books. Photograph: PACKED vzw

PACKED: Maybe it is a bit misleading in this context to call your digitisation work the digitisation of books because on a financial level this entails a completely different reference frame. The references of, for example, the European Commission as a funding body for the digitisation of books seems to be completely different.

Núria Solé Bardalet: On a financial level it might be misleading but on an artistic level it is important to talk about books. For Antoni Tàpies the reference to the book medium was important. He also collaborated on these works with writers. This is something that is specific for books, not for drawings, paintings or sculptures.

Laurence Rassel: Books are a very important part of Antoni Tàpies’ references and works. As I said before, he self-trained as an artist in his family's library. As a result he wanted to contribute to this world of books, even if it was somehow different.

Still, you are right. Because of the fact that we named these artworks books, we created expectations on a financial level at the European Commission that do not match our reality. We made them think of a library rather than a museum.

9. Copyright and other legal issues

PACKED: How do you deal with copyright issues?

Laurence Rassel: We are in permanent contact with VEGAP, the collective rights management organisation in Spain, to discuss the legality of the things we do in terms of online access to our collections and archives. DCA is for us a way of exploring the legality of reproducing artworks and making them accessible to a large public. Thanks to our relationship with the Tàpies family we have the right to do so. We are in a specific situation; we are a foundation dedicated to one artist. We always had a one-to-one relationship with the artist and his family. This makes it easier to talk about the conditions for access to the collection.

PACKED: Did you encounter any legal obstacles during the DCA project?

Laurence Rassel: On the contrary, we are lucky in Spain that the collective rights management organisation works on an agreement with the Ministry of Culture, especially for Europeana. In fact they are encouraging participation within Europeana. This makes it easier for us. We have to inform the collective rights management organisation which artworks we put online and contribute to Europeana but we don’t have to pay a license fee.

There seems to be a kind of understanding that due to the rise of the Internet the parameters are changing. The collective rights management organisations depend on collecting license fees but as a museum the Fundació Antoni Tàpies wants Antoni Tàpies' artworks to be seen, studied and taught. I explained to VEGAP about the workspace in which we make our archives publicly accessible and also that we want to be part of Wikipedia and Europeana.

Jaques Dupin and Antoni Tàpies. La nuit grandissante, 1968. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona / Vegap.
Photograph: Fernando Cortiglia. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

PACKED: Could you explain why the Fundació Antoni Tàpies also wants to contribute to Wikipedia?

Laurence Rassel: Once we discovered that an institution had copied the biography of Antoni Tàpies from Wikipedia and not from our website. Wikipedia is often the first place people go if they search for information, not the Fundació Antoni Tàpies website. Unfortunately, Tàpies’ biography on Wikipedia wasn't any good. So we decided that, in the future, we better put our information on Wikipedia. Otherwise people will just take the poor information that is available.

PACKED: Why would the collective right management organisation VEGAP agree with online display on Wikipedia and Europeana?

Núria Solé Bardalet: Probably they consider these online platforms as ways to promote collections. They understand the importance of visibility and this can also help them to collect license fees.

Laurence Rassel: Still, they do have some restrictions, like for instance the resolution of the images and non-commercial use. We agree with them that commercial re-use of digital collections cannot be possible without remuneration. As for Wikipedia we respect the restriction mentioned in terms of resolution and keep VEGAP informed of the list of works published in Wikipedia. VEGAP could accept the Creative Commons license chosen by Wikipedia within the limits of Wikipedia usage.

Núria Solé Bardalet: Antoni Tàpies' works are under copyright but we have made an agreement with the photographers to put reproductions of the works available under a Creative Commons license Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA). This license excludes commercial re-use or modification and obliges one to maintain the CC license and respect the moral rights of the authors, i.e., the photographer of Antoni Tàpies’ works, as well as the integrity of the artwork. As Antoni Tàpies’ works are under copyright, any use other than for education or research purposes can be problematic.

Laurence Rassel: As a cultural institution it is also our role to reflect upon the conditions in which our collection and archive needs to be publicly accessible.

PACKED: Why exactly did you decide to make the material available under a Creative Commons license that excludes commercial re-use?

Laurence Rassel: We have a pedagogic role. We do not want the reproductions of artworks and documents to be used for commercial purposes but do encourage them to be used in an educational, research or personal environment. It is also important to make a distinction between the reproduction and the work itself. Only the reproduction has a Creative Commons license, not the artwork. The reproduction of the artwork is not the same as the artwork. What people show at school or print at home is not the artwork but a reproduction.

Antoni Tàpies himself was already aware of this pedagogic role when he wrote the foundation charter for the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in the 1980's. He had learned from other artists. He already wrote about the possibilities of technology, about being connected to the other documentation centres and libraries and making the collections publicly accessible. Antoni Tàpies always had this concern with being seen and giving access. The principle of generosity and relationships was dear to him.

PACKED: Can you explain how you create online access on a legal level?

Laurence Rassel: If one wants to provide access to a collection or an archive, one first has to define what kind of access one wants to provide. Access always entails legal issues. To deal with this we work on a legal filter that makes it possible to manage the access.

In our online archive platform, Arts combinatòries, we made a distinction between three zones: a green zone, a red zone and a yellow zone. The green zone contains everything that belongs to the public domain, i.e., material free of licenses, orphan works with no privacy issues, and so on. This material can be made publicly accessible online. The red zone contains everything that has copyright or privacy issues and is material we decide we cannot put i online. We will still make this material accessible but only on the premises of our institution. Sometimes artists who participate in exhibitions at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies donate images or other material and tell us that we can keep it in our archive after the exhibition but cannot put it online. The yellow zone is everything for which we would like to push the boundaries a little. This zone contains everything that one would be able to access if one asked. These are documents, not artworks.

Every institution is obliged to keep an archive. If a researcher comes to us and asks access our archive, we will give it to him/her. So why not do this online as well? The material in the yellow zone is material that one needs to register for if one wants to online access. We apply a similar system if one wants to leave a comment, create a playlist or re-use the material. We also provide tools to edit text, images and movies. Our model for this was the library. One visits a library, gets a book, writes notes and makes a photocopy to take home. Why should it be impossible to do this in an online environment?

We are not pirates. On the contrary, we always try to work within the legal system and use the exceptions in copyright law. We also maintain a dialogue with the collective rights management organisation.

PACKED: You are also a strong defender of the notion of attribution.

Laurence Rassel: Attribution is one of the problematic issues related to the Data Exchange Agreement or DEA that Europeana has made obligatory for its content providers since 2012. I think that it is important is to be responsible as a cultural institution for your content. It should not be forgotten or erased what the cultural institution has done to make content accessible. The DEA has put us in an uncomfortable position.

If staff members of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies write, for example, a text, then they are convinced that what they write should belong to the institution they work for but also that they can be identified as authors who work for the institution. With the DEA we risk losing this genealogy. This subject created a lot of commotion within our institution. We have always be an advocate of the public domain, of open source data, of everything open. Now suddenly we have to plead for some restrictions, not for Europeana but for the third persons that could use our content. If third parties can use our content through Europeana without an attribution obligation, the relationship between our institution and the content is at risk of getting lost. Utility is more important than property but as a content providing cultural institution we also have a moral responsibility and moral rights. We want to be able to reclaim that moral responsibility and rights.

PACKED: What is the difference here between Wikipedia and Europeana?

Laurence Rassel: The license used by Wikipedia is the Creative Commons license Attribution, Share Alike (CC BY-SA). The license used by Europeana is the Creative Commons license CC0, which is a public domain dedication. CC0 entails that the person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law. The Creative Commons license Attribution, Share Alike, still obliges the user to attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor and allows him/her to alter, transform, or build upon the work if he/she distributes the resulting work under the same or a similar license.

PACKED: The discussion about the DEA is difficult because the European Commission, as a funding body of both Europeana and the DCA project, is pushing the ideas behind it.

Laurence Rassel: The European Commission is indeed partly funding our digitisation but what it ultimately seems to claim is not the digitisation results but the author’s rights. There is a contradiction in their approach because at the same time their funding cannot be used to pay license fees to clear copyrights on the digitised material, not only the images but also the descriptive texts. Still, they claim the possibility of free use by third parties, even for commercial purposes.

We want to be able to reclaim our moral rights. Once Antoni Tàpies wanted to refuse to be part of an exhibition organised by the dictatorial Franco regime but unfortunately he did not have the means to say no. It is important to always be able to reclaim one's moral rights. Recently we saw, for example, that the pop singer Beyoncé used the work of the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in a commercial music video without permission. The choreographer was able to negotiate this by allegating her author’s rights.

Núria Solé Bardalet: We should never lose sight of the question of moral right.

The names of Antoni Tàpies and the Catalan poet Joan Brossa on the box of Carrer de Wagner (1988). Photograph: PACKED vzw

PACKED: We should make a distinction here between the metadata and the actual content, in this case mainly digital reproductions.

Núria Solé Bardalet: For us the metadata is not the problem. We give the text material away for free because we want Antoni Tàpies’ work to be known by a large audience.

Laurence Rassel: But the possibility of reclaiming moral rights over, for instance, descriptive texts remains an issue, as we said before, as part of the preservation and genealogy of the work as well as the memory of the cultural environment in which it was created.

a For further information on Antoni Tàpies, see
b For more information on the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, see
c Combined Arts- A Place for Education, Exhibition and Research. For more information see the beta version of the web platform (Catalan/Spanish version).
d The exhibition Tàpies. Escriptura material. Llibres (Tàpies. Material Writing. Books) ran from 18 December 2002 until 9 March 2003. For further information, see On the occasion of this exhibition, a catalogue with the same title was published. For more information on this publication, see the Foundation's website.
e “To counterbalance the market forces, I endeavored in those years to maximize the spread of my work by means of reproductions. These make the work known to a wider public and create a more available price. To this end I sought the help of my friends at Sala Gaspar and at the Foto-Repro atelier in Barcelona. They allowed me to publish several series of lithographs. (…) In truth the artist works only to be seen. It is important to spare no effort to disseminate our images, at whatever cost and with whatever financing.” Antoni Tàpies, A Personal Memoir, 1976, p. 333.
f For further information, see

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