Art Databases

Happy New Year (or maybe by now, Happy President’s Day)

from Campisi Art Collection Management

Manageyourart is back, after busy post-Sandy times

May the coming year be Art-Full and disaster free.

This year’s blogs will focus on how to mitigate small and large disasters, what to do in the event of a disaster, and how to prevent even small losses from happening to your collection.

This week I will focus on organizing your information into a database. Everyone should have their artwork in a database, and should an event occur- from minor damage to full-on disaster, the first thing you will need to provided to your insurance company is complete information about what you lost. (What? You don’t have insurance? Don’t’ worry- there will be a blog on that.)

It is important to keep data pertaining to everything in your collection, including original invoices, condition reports and conservation records, a clear photograph, bibliography, provenance exhibition history, and scholarly remarks. All of these things affect the value of your art. The best place to keep this information is in a database. An Excel spreadsheet is not sufficient, but if you do have information in an Excel document, it can easily be imported into a database. Whether you have 40 objects or 40,000, a relational database should be chosen for easy storage and quick retrieval of all relevant information.

To make things simpler, you will want to choose a database that is designed with your collection and functionality in mind. Keep in mind the following:

1. What is your collection like? Do you have a large collection of a very wide variety of objects?  If so, you may want to choose a database that is attached to Getty nomenclature. Do you have an archaeological collection, with many like items?  Do you do very much provenance research?  Do you exist to sell art?  If so, you want to choose a database geared towards selling, with all of the pertinent fields to support many financial transactions.

It is likely that the database you choose will not come all of the fields the way you would like them, but most if not all relational databases come with some or many customizable fields.

2. Do you work on a PC or a MAC, or both?  Some databases are designed to run only on Windows, so in order to use them on a MAC you would have to run Parallels or Boot Camp.

3. Do you need to work “in the cloud?”  This is the wave of the future, and though many people find it a necessary feature,  maybe your collection is currently in one place, with one computer holding the data, and this is not important to you.  Or maybe running network software will allow you to work on many workstations and/or remotely using a computer-sharing software.

4.Will you need to create a website in the future? Some databases have web interfaces that make this easy.

Below, I will describe the outstanding features of seven commonly used databases . There are other art databases out there, and these are commonly used:

TMS, EMBARK, (both by Gallery Systems) Art Systems, Past Perfect, Collectify, FileMaker Pro, and Access.

Gallery Systems: TMS

For PC only

Used by most of the big museums in NYC and probably across the country. It is very detailed, and robust, with too many fields and features to go into here. It is one of the more expensive software packages, and one must purchase and learn Crystal Reports- another related program- in order to run more reports than it is bundled with. This is a wonderful software, with every imaginable field, and linked contacts, ways to print labels, and so much more. It may be too dense for the smaller private collector or artist.

From their website,

“TMS is part of a suite of products that enable clients to catalogue, publish and manage their collections. Other elements of the suite are eMuseum, our Web interface, and a number of plug-in applications designed to provide additional specialized features. Key features of TMS and the related suite of products include:

Collections and Content Management                                                                             Record and publish complete information on cataloguing, documentation, location, provenance and much more. Manage exhibitions, acquisitions, events, shipments, conservation and many other collection management activities.

Media and Rights Management
From any module within the system link and view digital media records, such as images, Web pages, documents, sound and video files. Physical media records such as colour transparencies can also be managed within TMS. Manage the inventory, licensing and circulation of such files.

Configurable Data Entry Views
As well as a comprehensive range of standard ‘display modes’ for viewing and editing data, users can quickly and easily create their own forms for entering data, including all the fields which they are using and eliminating unused fields.

Comprehensive Security Controls:
Access to view, edit, add and delete data can be comprehensively controlled, down to an individual user and individual field level as required.

Integrated Thesaurus Manager
The Getty’s Art and Architecture Thesaurus and Thesaurus of Geographic Names are integrated into TMS


A comprehensive selection of more than 50 pre-defined reports are bundled with the application, including loan agreements, deed of gift forms

Web Interface


 Gallery Systems: Embark

For PC or Mac

Has all of the functionality that a collector would want, and much of what is listed above, but without all of the bells of TMS. And runs locally on a Mac. This is what I would choose for most collectors. It appears to manage images very nicely, and has a web kiosk.

Among other things, you can create customized, task-specific data entry & modification layouts for Object, Artist & Agent records

They are not at all transparent about costs; I will see if I can find out the costs by phone before this blog is published

Art Systems

Artsystems Pro for Windows

For Mac and PC

Has a number of good- looking products that are designed for different functionalities. You can choose from Pro (used by many galleries in NYC,) Studio Pro, Collections, websites, and web manager (costs extra), and Ipad solutions.

Pro Seems to be geared toward selling, Is excellent if you want to track sales, multiple appraisals, etc; studio pro towards artist, collections towards collectors, etc

It is not linked to Getty nomenclature and does not have as many fields to hold specific categories of media, type, etc. (not as much for academic naming and categorizing)

Has an ipad app

Is in the cloud

Automatically resizes images

Here is a screen shot:

I like how easy it is to find out about pricing on their website:

Software package                                                Primary license                      Add’l license   Artsystems Pro                                                                                                                     Native windows and Mac                                    5,000                                                1,000

Studio pro                                                            1,995                                                 995

Gallery Pro V 2.8 for windows                                n/a                                                   895

Collections v2.8.2 for windows                                                                                                 and mac                                                                 895                                                   695

Studio v2.8.2                                                                                                                            for windows and mac                                            795                                                   695

 Past Perfect                                                                                      

For PC

This is also a commonly used program for museums in the US, and seems to be designed to work well for natural history and object-based collections

The tablet functions seem only good with android tablets

From what I have read on the AAM Registrar’s listserve, people are generally very happy with this software and the support offered, and is relatively reasonably priced.

You can downoad a free trial

Cost: $870.00 for one basic version

Has barcode scanning

Has lots of added features, such as online hosting, which costs $285 for the online software plus $440 / year for the first 10,000 records and $245 for each additional 10,000

And scatter/gather, to use more than one non- networked computers for data entry ($330 per year)

They also offer data conversion for $80.00 per hour.

Virtual Exhibit for $445



Only for PCs                                                                                                                          Not in the cloud

Good for private small collector or dealer

Easy to customize fields

Has Getty Object ID system

Can download free trial version

Holds photos

Looks to be very user friendly

Very economical- it only costs $149.95

I did not see many fields for different values, contacts, etc. But this would be a good basic program for someone on a budget who just needs a database.

They have a “home inventory” software that is very basic but looks like it would do the job for inventorying your home- for only $49.95. 

Filemaker Pro


for PCs and Macs

Not in the cloud

I like filemaker as a database, but sadly there are no good art collection templates (“starter solutions” as they call them), and therefore it requires total customization. The price is very good, though at about $300 for one user.

If you have time but a small budget, this is a good option. The downside is that it is a time investment, and you need to know how a basic relational database works, as well as what fields you need and how you would like them organized.

The support is good, and there are many companies and individuals who will work with you, for a fee, to make a custom database. (though this adds substantially to the cost)

I am currently making a database in filemaker because the client has a small budget, and does not own an art collection ; therefore they need something totally customized. From a non-developer standpoint, it is rather user-friendly to someone with a good understanding of databases.

They also offer good-looking ipad and iphone apps. Be aware that you may have to run the more expensive server software on a dedicated computer in order to use them well.


Microsoft Access 2013

For PC only

Access is a good basic database, with many of the benefits and drawbacks of filemaker. It is a Microsoft product, and is easy to purchase and install, and very economical.  Like Filemaker, there are no art collection templates to use, so you will have to design and build it yourself. Again, there are developers out there who can be hired to design one for you, and that offers the benefits of customization. The true beginner may not know how databases are related on the “back end” or all of the fields that should be included. If you know exactly what you want and have  good understanding of database structure, and have time to learn, this is another good option for PC users, and at about $109.00 it is affordable.


 For PCs and Macs

This is a very inexpensive new program, based on Filemaker, called GYST.  It only costs about $160.00, and include many other resources for artists, and ways to track all sorts of things other than information on the artwork, such as resumes and marketing, and legal issues. However, there are a number of fields necessary to good artwork recordkeeping that are missing, (such as “weight” for sculpture, and “current location”). It is not possible to customize fields, yet, though the developers seems open to suggestion. It looks like this would be good in the future, but is not quite ready for prime time yet.

I hope this does not have you scratching your head, and wondering where to look first. Again, assess your needs, check out some of the websites above, and download trial versions of your favorite softwares to get a feel for what is right for you.

And please, after you have purchased and populated your database, don’t forget to back it up! (internally and externally)

Do you use a database?  What do you like about it, and what do you wish were different?

Please chime in, below:


7 thoughts on “Art Databases

  1. Hi Barbara, there are lots of changes at the Islip Art Museum and the Carriage House, mostly not so good. The Museum still retains a small permanent collection. If I can think of a way to use your services, I will! In the meantime, thanks for your information.Best, Mary Lou Cohalan

  2. Hi Barbara – great entry. Here’s another service for high net worth individuals to track their assets. Soon they will have a mobile app so if you, say, purchase something from Tiffany, you can take a photo of the receipt and item and automatically add it to one of your locations. I believe this is cloud technology and you can allow different people working with the collection different tiers of access.

    Check it out:


  3. HI Barbara!

    I recently built a database on the Airtable platform — it is in the cloud, and so far I am fine using their free version. I had done some internet research; and found a post by an art critic who had made an archive template that he offered to share at no cost.

    I decided to give it an experimental shot . . .and everything about it has seemed very workable . .

    It is VERY helpful for me. I’ve archived 10 years of work (my current body of work.) Leaving plenty more to work on in the future but it makes a big difference.

    If I had not found this, I am sure I would have asked your advice . . !



    PS. What I do need to do is export a backup copy to my files. I will figure that out . ..

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