Meet Brandon Eng, Intern on The Art Genome Project, Summer 2014
A senior at Wesleyan University majoring in art history, Brandon Eng interned on our Art Genome Project team last summer. A native New Yorker, Brandon joined us with a number of research and curatorial internships under his belt, having interned previously at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. We recently caught up with Brandon to talk about his experience at Artsy.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite projects as an intern on The Art Genome Project?
I worked on a project related to the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, highlights of which we were just adding to the site. The Rijksmuseum has been a frontrunner in online access, and in spring of 2013 they became one of the first museums to make high resolution images of works in their collection downloadable (you can access the almost 500,000 works of art on their site). I took on the task of evaluating almost 100 collection highlights according to the categories in The Art Genome Project, a process we call “genoming.” There were some amazing works from their design and decorative arts collection, as well as masterpieces by Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt van Rijn. Genoming the Rijksmuseum collection was a nice experience because I got to see work in a variety of media from different time periods and areas of the world.
One of the most interesting aspects that emerged in my research was not, however, in relation to these household names, but rather a lesser known artist, Jean Baptiste Vanmour. Vanmour was a Flemish-French painter who gained rare access to the Ottoman court and documented life in the Ottoman Empire in the early 18th century. With his exotic scenes—ever popular back in Europe— he represents an early artistic position in the history of orientalism, and sheds light on the confluence of politics and global trade in the 17th and 18th centuries.
What were some of the challenges you helped solve at Artsy?
When I joined Artsy, one of the major challenges on The Art Genome Project team was how to improve training for contributors—the art historians and catalogers who evaluate and categorize—or “genome”—all the artists and works on Artsy. One particular issue we wanted to address was the fact that it’s hard to memorize all of the 1,000 categories that make up The Art Genome Project. I had the idea to create flashcards for all our visual categories (these include things like Allover Composition, Flatness, or Layered Images). In addition to making these available as a traditional memorization strategy, we used them as cards in our own version of the game Memory. This game is now a standard part of training—it’s a fun, casual way for contributors to familiarize themselves with our categories.
What did you learn during your internship at Artsy?
I was really happy with how fast paced things are at Artsy. I learned how to manage my time and track multiple projects at once. Artists and art historians really do work side by side with engineers and web designers. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Artsy was how genuinely curious everyone was. People were always interested to know what their colleagues—including interns—were working on, and multiple team members would strike up conversations over a work of art I had up on my screen.
Do you have a favorite category?
That is so tough. My favorite two categories might be Eye Contact—because it brings together such a wide-ranging selection of work—and Collage—because it is my favorite medium. I also gained a new appreciation for design and decorative arts and enjoyed the opportunity to work with our design specialist, Alex Gilbert.
Genome Team members Brandon Eng and Madeleine Boucher