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E2606e – Establishment of the National Center for Art Research and the Initiatives of its Research Resources Group

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Current Awareness-E No.459

29 June, 2023

Establishment of the National Center for Art Research and the Initiatives of its Research Resources Group


On March 28, 2023, the Independent Administrative Institution National Museum of Art established the National Center for Art Research (NCAR) as a base for promoting art in Japan. With the keywords “Connecting, Deepening, and Expanding Art,” the NCAR plans to advance its activities with four pillars: “activating art museum collections,” “compiling and providing research resources,” “international dissemination and networking,” and “enhancement of learning.” This article introduces some of the initiatives on research resources.

●“Encyclopedia of Japanese Artists” Project (tentative)

Imagine, for example, a curator abroad planning an exhibition. Suppose this curator comes up with a name of a Japanese artist as a potential exhibitor. In such case, the curator needs to thoroughly investigate whether books and magazine articles on this artist are available, whether a catalog raisonné (a collection of all works) is published, history of participation in exhibitions, and where the works are housed.

Currently, reference tools on Japanese art have not been fully developed for those engaged in research outside Japan. Despite the importance of artist information, unlike biographical dictionaries in the West, Japanese biographical dictionaries have focused on commentaries about the artist, often lacking information such as bibliographies that may serve as a clue for further study.

Given the situation, the NCAR decided to create a comprehensive encyclopedia of Japanese artists. The plan is to include, in each entry, reference information such as major exhibitions, major collections, and bibliographies, in addition to commentaries. We follow established examples of biographical dictionaries from abroad such as “Benezit Dictionary of Artists” (first published in 1911, now online), an artist dictionary known by its abbreviation “Benezit.” We also follow “Artists of the World” (online version) that succeeded “Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart” (first published in 1907), an artist dictionary familiarly known as “Thieme-Becker.” The encyclopedia is currently being compiled for online release in fall 2023.

●Creating Research Guides

In libraries in the West, creating research guides is an important task for librarians. The fact that pathfinders are being published one after another on library websites today is evidence of this. However, in Japan where the subject librarian system has not taken root, it has been pointed out that librarians do not have sufficient experience to compile subject-specific information nor opportunities to develop their skills (see E1410). The same is true in the field of art. While research guides and research environment abroad evolve dramatically, the environment surrounding art in Japan has lagged behind.

In light of this situation, the NCAR has referred to examples from overseas to prepare for releasing research guides for different purposes including “How to learn about Japanese artists” and “How to conduct a comprehensive search across works housed in art museums.” The aim is to contribute to the study of Japanese art by providing appropriate guides to information seekers in Japan and abroad.

●Compilation and Dissemination of Information on Works in Museum Collections throughout Japan

In addition to the above initiative, the NCAR is also engaged in compilation of art catalogs. “SHŪZŌ” is a retrieval system that enables users a search of art collections in Japan, which we took over from the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Art Platform Project. Art history institutes in the West have “slide library,” a special material room where images of artworks are accumulated. The SHŪZŌ project shares with this tradition of art history studies the concern towards information on artworks.

With the revision of the Museum Act in 2022, the creation and public release of “digital data on art museums’ collections” has clearly positioned as a priority. However, only a few museums have released all collection data. Collection data here refers not only to image data, but also to all collection related data. This includes basic data such as titles and techniques of the work, as well as data obtained through historical research such as the provenance of artworks (ownership history). The current situation is such that individual museums do not have sufficient budget or manpower to make those collection data available online.

Given this situation, the SHŪZŌ project, with the cooperation of museums across Japan, has received unpublished data used in museum operations as well as paper catalogs and other materials. The management team has taken initiative to undertake the burden of tasks associated with online publication including digitization and data processing. There are, indeed, limits to this method. However, our hope is to contribute to increasing data that are available online without putting undue burden on individual museums. Our ultimate goal is to enable comprehensive search across collections of Japanese museums, but for the time being, we are working to enhance data on modern and contemporary Japanese art.

As a national center, the NCAR is engaged in various projects with the aim of establishing its function as a platform for research on Japanese artists and their works. We hope to make at least a small contribution to enhancing the international value and reputation of Japanese art.

Written by Kawaguchi Masako
National Center for Art Research

Translated by Okada Aya


*Notes are not translated and remain in Japanese language.


独立行政法人国立美術館. ~アートをつなげる、深める、拡げる~日本におけるアート振興の新たな推進拠点として設立 : 独立行政法人国立美術館『国立アートリサーチセンター』. 2023.
“Benezit Dictionary of Artists”. Oxford University Press.
Artists of the World.
天野絵里子. つながるLibGuides:パスファインダーを超えて. カレントアウェアネス-E. 2013, (234), E1410.