I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published August 3rd 2011
There is a growing fascination for exhibits that showcase private writing and drawings, offering a limited glance inside the mind of whoever is responsible for the renderings, whether he or she is unknown or celebrated. Sketchbooks are often displayed this way, as are drafts of manuscripts, but an even more unusual chance to sneak inside the minds of yesterday's artists and thinkers exists right now at the Morgan Library and Museum in the exhibit, Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.
Much of the 80 odd documents collected for the show detail the inner-workings of artists like Pablo Picasso, who made lists of artists he deemed relevant for the modern age, such as a consideration of the most monumental works in the then ground-breaking 1913 Armory Show, or sculptor Robert Smithson, whose lifetime infatuation with the spiral was reinforced by his collection of quotes on the same subject. Other lists are less pertinent to the work, but no less revealing, such as one that referred to 1960s painter Franz Kline, whose itemized bill from a long-gone Greenwich Village liquor store is among the papers on display. Artist Grant Wood, who lived during the Great Depression, made lists of periods of economic disparity.
This exhibit provides a revealing glimpse into the everyday word of great artists by presenting items of the most common type," said William M. Griswold, director of the Morgan Library & Museum. "Lists are both practical and personal. They record momentary working concerns, while offering insight into an artist's private observations and recollections. They provide biographical context and reveal details about personal taste and opinion."
Some artists made lists of paintings completed and sold, or as in the case of Lee Krasner, a formal response to questions about her artistic process and personal feelings about showing and selling her work. Other lists are accompanied by illustration, such as a visual inventory of items packed for a trip by realist painter Adolf Konrad, or "Notes for a Painting of Little Falls, New Jersey" (1917) that listed the colors painter Oscar Bluemner hoped to incorporate in his eventual work.
This exhibition doesn't take itself too seriously, nor should it. None of the items were intended for public consumption, which accounts for a good bit of the fun, and it also does a great job at playing homage to the age before technology when skills like penmanship, perfect spelling, and wit were a measurable demonstration of a person's character. Lists is on display from now until October 2, 2011.