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Graduate students' guide to resources in art history: Exhibition catalogs and reviews

Research guide for graduate students in art history lists core resources, print and electronic.

Finding exhibition catalogs and reviews

The first step to finding exhibition catalogs for a given artist or work is to see whether there is a catalogue raisonné for the artist (see the Catalogues Raisonnés tab).   A fulsome and complete catalogue raisonné will give the exhibition histories of the works included, and the task then is to decipher the entries, which are often cryptically abbreviated or coded, and track them down by searching first our library catalog and then WorldCat.

If you are looking for exhibition catalogs for an artist who does not have a catalogue raisonné, or whose catalogue raisonné does not include exhibition histories, the task becomes more difficult.  Here are some tips:

1.  Search reference books that list or index exhibition catalogs, such as those to the right.

2.  Search WorldCat or any library online catalog, using a subject search, for the artist's name and "exhibitions" (e.g. picasso exhibitions)

3.  Search article databases that index newspapers or journals from the appropriate time period, looking for announcements or reviews of exhibitions for the artist.  If the article or review gives a title for the exhibition, search it in WorldCat to see whether a catalog was published.  

Examples of useful databases are given below; check under "Finding articles" for more.  Some databases (such as Art Abstracts and ArtBibliographies Modern) allow you to search specifically for exhibition reviews, usually by limiting to a given Document Type.

  • Index to 19th-Century American Art Periodicals
  • Art Abstracts and/or Art Index Retrospective
  • Pro-Quest Historical Newspapers
  • ArtBibliographies Modern
  • Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA)

4.  The book/catalog vendor Worldwide Books : Exhibition Catalogues and Art Books has a searchable website for exhibition catalogs. This can be a helpful place to search for obscure exhibition catalogs (although most of them should be catalogued in WorldCat). The Getty Research Library's catalog is another helpful resource as well.

Exhibition catalogs: specialized resources

Archives of American Art.   Collection of Exhibition Catalogs.  Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979.

Photographed catalog cards for exhibition catalogs selected from the holdings of major public, museum, and historical society libraries throughout the U.S. and microfilmed during the 1960s.  This volume is a listing, in a single alphabet, of art exhibition catalogs published in the U.S. from the early 19th century to the 1960s. Entries refer to the name of the exhibiting institution, the names of artists exhibited if there are three or fewer, the exhibition date, and the roll and frame numbers needed to locate the catalog on the microfilm held at the AAA. Microfilm reels are available from the AAA through interlibrary loan.  This book seems impossibly primitive in our age of electronic searching, but because it is a listing of exhibition catalogs only it is often easier to search than the Smithsonian's comprehensive online catalog.

Clark Reference Z881 W3 A7e


National Museum of American Art’s Index to American Art Exhibition Catalogues: From the Beginning through the 1876 Centennial Year. Compiled by James L. Yarnell and William H. Gerdts. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986.

“Highly important reference work” that supplies a detailed survey of art exhibited in the U.S. and Canada from 1773 to 1876. Index to 952 catalogs of early American exhibitions not published previously in any other major art exhibition catalog index (though it does include the catalogs of the American Society of Painters in Water Colours held at the National Academy of Design). Includes artists from any nationality or school working in the fine arts. Entries include title, medium, price, owner, catalog number in original publication, and any original annotations. Material may be accessed using several indexes: exhibition title index (by location), artist index, owner index, and subject index. Updated and expanded database of this work is available online (see Pre-1877 Art Exhibition Catalog Index, below) but the print version may still be useful.

Clark Reference Z N5198 S55


Pre-1877 Art Exhibition Catalogue Index (Smithsonian Institution)

Online version of National Museum of American Art’s Index to American Art Exhibition Catalogues: From the Beginning through the 1876 Centennial Year, above.  Index to “136,494 records describing fine art works exhibited in this country and in Canada up through 1876. The Catalogue is comprised of information from 1,057 exhibition catalogs, broadsides, newspaper articles, and gallery notices. It does not duplicate information from already published exhibition summaries” (e.g. catalogs from the American Academy of Fine Arts & American Art Union, Boston Athenaeum, Brooklyn Art Association, National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Combined Art Organizations of San Francisco). Each record includes, when given: artist name, life dates, address, and nationality, object title, creation date, media, support, dimensions, owner name and address at time of exhibition, exhibition catalog title, and narrative notes. Broad subject terms have also been assigned.

Internet resource


Wilson, Raymond L.  Index of American Print Exhibitions, 1882–1940.  Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Index to prints and printmakers represented at the annual salons of leading art societies, at national and international exhibitions, and in the annual publications Fine Prints of the Year (1923–1938) and Fifty Prints of the Year (1925–1944). Included are the catalogs of the New York Etching Club, the Chicago Society of Etchers, the California Society of Etchers, the Printmakers Society of California, the Brooklyn Society of Etchers, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the New York World’s Fair. There is an index of artists, with a listing of works for each name, but unfortunately no title index.

Clark Reference Z NE507 W54