There are a few questions I constantly receive, and one of the most common is how to label artworks in an exhibition. The truth is there is no single standard format, though most art labels include the same key elements. Below we dive into each element included on artwork labels. You can also skip ahead to see more examples of artwork labels.
Below, the components of artwork labels them are focused on wall labels. These are often hung next to artwork on a gallery wall. They are meant to inform the viewer about the work. However, art labels that are placed on the back of artworks are essentially the same format. If you are looking to label your artwork by affixing a label to it, the same information will be applicable to you. The main difference would be that usually, if you are attaching a label to the back of your art, you would not include the price.
The most standard information included on artwork labels is:
1. The artist’s name
This one is pretty straightforward! In many museums and some galleries, the name may also be followed by birth and death dates.
For a living artist, you would see their year of birth.
Yoko Ono (b. 1933)
For a deceased artist, you would see their year of birth and year of death.
Frida Kahlo (1907–1954)
2. The title of the work
Depending on your preference, the title of the artwork can be plain, in italics, or bolded. Italics are often used to differentiate the title from the rest of the information, as well referencing english grammar rules for titles. The title could also be in bold as a different method of differentiating it from the remainder of the information.
3. The date the artwork was made
Generally, the date of an artwork is the year that it was completed. Sometimes, if a work has been continued over a long span of time and the artist would like to acknowledge that, multiple years can be included (for example, 2012-2014). If the date of the artwork is unknown (usually for historical works), “circa” is included: for example, c. 1919.
4. The size of the artwork
The measurement of an artwork usually refers to the outer size of the canvas, paper, or other material that is the base of an artwork. Unless the frame is an integral part of the work itself, its measurements should not be considered the size of the artwork. The standard is to list the height, then the width. The depth, if applicable, would be listed third. For example, 57 x 46 x 3 inches. Sometimes, there is no specific dimensions for a work (for example, video work, or work which changes size depending on different installation circumstances). In the case of no specific dimensions, it is appropriate to list dimensions variable.
4.a The duration of the artwork
For durational artworks such as video or audio, this format is often used to list their duration: 00:00:00 (hours, minutes, seconds). You can also simply list 1 hour, two minutes, or however long your work is. It is not absolutely necessary to list the duration of work, however works of this nature are often catalogued in this manner.
5. The medium of the artwork
This seems straightforward, although sometimes it can be difficult to decide what should be listed and what should be left out. It is really the artist’s choice how detailed they would like to be. For example, you can list your medium as simply as possible (for example, oil on linen). You can include more detail, if you feel it is integral to the work (for example, gel medium, tea, sand, dirt, grass on found canvas).
6. The price or the credit listing
Should you be selling your work and you would like to include a price on your label, place it at the bottom. If the work is not for sale, you can leave this area blank. If the work is loaned, this is where you would credit the lender. For example, Courtesy of Cleopatra.
7. Additional information for artwork labels
Museums or larger establishments showing artists of historical significance often list further information on their labels. This could be the museum’s own cataloguing number for the work, and/or a credit to the donor of the work if applicable.
Here are some examples of artwork labels:
For a loaned artwork:
Acrylic and oil paint on canvas
68 x 160 inches
Courtesy of the Tate Museum
For an artwork for sale:
The Card Players
Oil on canvas
38 x 51 inches
For a durational artwork:
Double Lunar Dogs
Courtesy of MoMA
Two color video monitors, two laser disc players, two laser discs (color, sound), and metal table
Courtesy of MoMA
The original post on this subject How to Label Artworks in an Exhibition includes tips and ideas for physically creating your art labels.