A description of the way a work of art is meant to be seen or has been displayed.



Orientation/Arrangement - Description


A textual description, either in the form of a prose narrative or using individual keywords or terms, of the way the work of art is meant to be seen or has been displayed.


The polyptych was formerly arranged differently. In the upper tier, an earlier reconstruction placed Mary Magdalen on the outside left and St. Catherine on the outside right (while they are currently in reverse positions). In the lower tier, the earlier reconstruction placed St. Bartholomew to the left of the central St. James Major, and St. John the Evangelist to the right of James (while the current reconstruction has swapped the positions of Bartholomew and John) [Figure 2].

"the miniature Nude Descending a Staircase was painted for Carrie's dollhouse, where it hangs today, between the ballroom's great Renaissance fireplace and its silver-and-ivory grand piano." [1]

Chandelier is suspended from rosette in the center of the ceiling; glass bowl at bottom of piece was designed to hold goldfish [Figure 4].

Terrestrial and Celestial Globes stand on corners of the carpet, on either side of a double-form desk [Figure 3 and Figure 10].

2 o'clock


In certain cases, particularly with abstract or nonrepresentational works, it is difficult to know how the artist intended the work to be oriented or arranged. Sometimes the original arrangement is not known because the work has been dispersed or rearranged.

Where possible, the descriptive phrase should be indexed with terms used to describe orientation drawn from a controlled vocabulary.

A description of the arrangement of a work of art may take the form of a prose description of, for example, the sequence of works within a series, or the pages within an album. It may also be a diagrammatic indication or drawing of how a work in several parts should be arranged. A statement of arrangement should describe the placement, construction, or reconstruction of the work in terms that are appropriate to the work itself. A more detailed description will be necessary to understand how to assemble Claes Oldenburg's Bedroom, for example, than is required to record the relative positioning of the two parts of a Barnett Newman diptych. Such a description will be more or less specific depending on the complexity of the work and the amount of detail known about its arrangement and orientation.

Opinions about the arrangement of a work may vary, or a work may have been assembled in different ways for different installations. Each variation should be described separately.

For complex multi-part works, arrangement and orientation may be known for each of the parts. This will be particularly true for contemporary installations in the "stations format," such as Dennis Oppenheim's "single installation consisting of twenty-nine artists' models and small sculptures that represented a new body of concepts and works for later exhibitions," which he contributed to Installations: Rita McKeogh, Tom McMillin, Dennis Oppenheim, organized by the Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, Alberta, in July-August 1983.


The source for the arrangement of a work of art may be the artist him- or herself. Other sources may include visual documentation of the work in situ, or descriptions of the work when it was exhibited. There may also be information carried within the work itself, such as the place-numbers assigned to works within a portfolio, which indicate their sequence. Orientation and arrangement may also be derived from a direct examination of the work itself.


The parts of the work should be recorded in OBJECT/WORK - COMPONENTS. Part/whole relationships are further articulated in RELATED WORKS.

Information regarding the work's dimensions and format should be recorded in MEASUREMENTS.

Any inscriptions on the work that provide information regarding its arrangement should be transcribed or described in INSCRIPTIONS/MARKS.

A work of art may be arranged differently when it is installed in a particular location. A work's exhibition history is provided in EXHIBITION/LOAN HISTORY.

An arrangement or orientation may be related to a work in a particular context. This should be recorded in CONTEXT - ARCHITECTURAL.

Visual images that provide information about the work of art should be cited in RELATED VISUAL DOCUMENTATION.


Multi-part works are often quite complex in their physical composition. A description of their arrangement and orientation makes it possible to understand how the parts relate to each other. This also ensures that the work will be seen in the appropriate sequence. For single-part works, noting orientation ensures that the work will be installed appropriately. In both cases, a precise description of arrangement and orientation enables the researcher to visualize the object and aids in the understanding of its composition and subject matter.

A description of the orientation of a work of art or the arrangement of its component parts is important for understanding of the work as a whole. Without a knowledge of how the work is to be put together, the researcher risks misinterpreting its meaning.

A full statement of the arrangement of a work is critical for installations and other large works, which are often stored in parts. This enables an accurate reconstruction of the work when it is exhibited again.


To provide access, descriptive statements should be indexed using controlled vocabulary.

Information about orientation and arrangement can be used to connect works of art with similar orientations, such as all hanging scrolls or all paintings of a particular type that had a horizontal orientation. In addition, information about the arrangement of objects in reference to one another is of interest, whether as parts of a whole, as in the arrangement of the Elgin Marbles, or as works arranged together in a particular context, e.g., the juxtaposition of sculptures by three generations of Calders on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

Orientation/Arrangement - Remarks


Notes or comments pertinent to the arrangement or orientation of the work of art or the interpretation of evidence surrounding it. These may include a summary of, or quotation from, a source where information was found.

Orientation/Arrangement - Citations


A reference to a bibliographic source, unpublished document, or other documentation where information about the orientation of a work or the arrangement of its component parts was found.



1 Stephen Watson, Strange Bedfellows: The First American Avant-Garde (New York: Abbeville Press, 1991), p. 326.