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

References

[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, https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/library/pdf/itl-companion-pieces.pdf

Editor’s Note: This post officially kicks off a series of articles featuring special items found in artist files.  The following comes from Jenny Stone, librarian at the Dallas Museum of Art. Thanks Jenny! Others who wish to contribute to the series, please contact one of the coordinators.

It’s not known when the Dallas Museum of Art’s Mayer Library artist file collection began.  Based on contents found in the files, we know that major growth started in the 1940s when Jerry Bywaters, the director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, began sending out “Biographical Data” questionnaires to Texas regional artists.

Under the directorship of Bywaters, an artist himself, the DMFA turned a sharp focus towards regional art.  To that end, Bywaters sought to create a centralized resource for information on artists of Texas and the Southwest in the museum’s library, which had opened to the public in 1944.

Page 1 , Velma Dozier

When looking through these questionnaires, it’s easy to feel a sense of connection.   My favorite section is where artists are asked to identify their “best and most representative” works.

Page 2, Velma Dozier

In addition to filling out the questionnaires, artists were asked to send glossies of recent work, some color slides, and a photograph of themselves at work.  This material is often the only information available to researchers on some artists.

Assistance in keeping the files up to date was solicited from the artists as well.  As Bywaters plainly stated, “…it is obviously impossible for our museum librarian to keep informed of the manifold of activities of the hundreds of Southwestern artists.”  So true.

Velma Dozier at work