Found in the Artist Files No. 3 – You Had to Be There: Concepts, Events and Environments in the NGA Library’s Vertical Files

Like many librarians, I fetishize the past.

My particular obsession is the ‘60s and ‘70s, which inspired a show I organized for the National Gallery of Art library, Companion Pieces: Documenting Concepts, Events, Environmentson view through August 25th [2]. Art movements of the time emphasized ideas, experience and process over tangible objects, and galleries and museums conceived of new ways to record, distribute and exhibit artwork of this character. Many documents from this time—photographs, films, videos, written narratives, and instructions—are now highly valued art objects found in museum art collections. Ephemera in the NGA library’s vertical files, however, are unsigned, unlimited run and intended for broad distribution. Easily printed and widely circulated, they allow for engagement with not only the artwork, but with the experimental spirit of the time.

Wesleyan University, Transfer: A Happening (For Christo), by Allan Kaprow, poster/invitation, Middletown, Connecticut, 1968, National Gallery of Art Library, Vertical Files
New York University, Dan Graham: Performance, Film, Television, & Tape, invitation, New York, New York, 1970, National Gallery of Art Library, Vertical Files, Vogel Collection
Franz Dahlem, FLUXUS: Joseph Beuys, Henning Christiansen, invitation, Munich, Germany, 1967, National Gallery of Art Library, Vertical Files

And they look so good. With a cool reticence (images with no words/ words with no images) that screams, “You had to be there.”  Brian O’Doherty in reference to the epic and often challenging 9 Evenings; Theatre & Engineering, however, reassures me: “the historical audience will regret they weren’t there, the actual audience often regretted that they were.” [1]

25th Street Armory, 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, program, New York, New York, 1966, National Gallery of Art Library, Vertical Files


[1] Brian O’Doherty, “New York: 9 Armored Nights,” Art and Artists 1, no.9 (December 1966), 14-17, reprinted in Morris (curator), 9 Evenings Reconsidered: Art, Theatre and Engineering (2006), 75-79.

[2] Companion Pieces: Documenting Concepts, Events, Environments, exhibition brochure, National Gallery of Art, 2017,

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