George Catlin (1796-1872), “Amusements,” ca. 1830, George Catlin papers, 1821-1904, 1946, Cat. no. 59, In 1828 painter George Catlin began recording American Indian culture through portraits and scenes from daily life, including buffalo hunts, foot races, and powwows. While Catlin was not the first artist to paint American Indians, he was the first to portray them as culturally complex human beings, rather than as savages. Although referred to as “amusements” by Catlin, the list included sacred rituals, such as the Sioux Scalp Dance, which was part of an elaborate ceremony commemorating dead warriors and the spoils of war, and attests to Catlin’s genuine interest in cataloguing the customs of American Indians, then considered to be a vanishing race.
Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974), “The Bohemian Dinner” poem, undated, Charles Green Shaw papers, 1874-1979, Cat. no. 65, Born into wealth, Charles Green Shaw reveled in a glamorous 1920s New York social scene. A satirical journalist, painter, defender of avant-garde art, children’s book author, illustrator, playwright, and a master of the bon mot, Shaw explored his passions through multiple means. His poems often consisted of short declarative phrases. A case in point is “The Bohemian Dinner,” in which Shaw creates an abstraction of an experience in list form.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Address book, ca. 1930, Alexander Calder papers, 1926-67, Cat. no. 24. In the late 1920s and early 30s, when Calder was a young man living in Paris, he created his Cirque Calder, a miniature circus fashioned from wire, string, rubber, cloth, and other found objects. He recorded his connections with other artists and members of the Parisian avant-garde in his handmade address book, which may have served as his mailing list for performances of his circus.
Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), “May-Self Rating Chart” school assignment, 1932, Harry Bertoia papers, 1917-79, Cat. no. 46, Sculptor and designer Harry Bertoia was just 15 when he moved from Italy to the United States. Two years later, struggling to assimilate in school, he made this list of personal attributes as part of a class project. After high school he attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where, along with his neatness and accuracy, he developed a fluid sense of sculptural form that made him a leading designer of modern furniture.
Margaret De Patta (1903-1964), List of orders for jewelry, ca. 1946, Margaret De Patta papers, 1944-2000, Cat. p. 8, Jeweler Margaret De Patta kept a list of orders for her Modernist creations — rings, earrings, pins, pendants, bracelets — with the name of the piece and the purchaser. She obviously derived great satisfaction from finishing projects: when she completed an order, she crossed off the name of the buyer and the item, transforming her to-do list into a done list. De Patta was a closer; she saved the done list as a written record of orders fulfilled.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Recommendations for Walt Kuhn for the Armory Show, 1912, Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, 1859-1978, Cat. no. 28,In 1912, American painter Walt Kuhn asked Picasso to recommend European artists for the 1913 Armory Show, the first international exhibition of Modern art in the United States. This list is Picasso’s recommendations, including Marcel Duchamp — name spelled out phonetically — whose Nude Descending a Staircase (1912) caused an uproar at the exhibition, Fernand Léger, and Juan Gris, among others. The Europeans stole the show, overshadowing their American counterparts.
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art
June 3-October 2, 2011
From the weekly shopping list to the Ten Commandments, our lives are full of lists — some dashed off quickly, others beautifully illustrated, all providing insight into the personalities and habits of their makers. A new exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum celebrates this most common form of documentation by presenting an array of lists made by a broad range of artists, from Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder to H. L. Mencken, Eero Saarinen, Elaine de Kooning, and Lee Krasner. Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art includes examples such as Picasso's picks for the great artists of his age (Gris, Léger, etc.), H. L. Mencken's autobiographical facts ("I never have a head-ache from drink"), and Robert Smithson's collection of quotations about spirals, the items on view are intriguing, revealing, humorous, and poignant.
The exhibition, which is organized by the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art, presents some 80 lists, including "to-dos," paintings sold, appointments made and met, supplies to get and places to see, and people who are "in." Some documents are historically important, throwing light on a moment, movement, or event; others are private, providing an intimate view of an artist's personal life. Eero Saarinen, for example, enumerated the good qualities of •New York Times• art editor and critic Aline Bernstein, his soon-to-be second wife. Oscar Bluemner crafted lists of color combinations for a single painting. Picasso itemized his recommendations for the ground-breaking 1913 Armory show, and Grant Wood listed previous economic depressions, perhaps with the hope that the Great Depression would soon end.
"This exhibition provides a revealing glimpse into the everyday world 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 also offering insight into an artist's private observations and recollections. They provide biographical context and reveal details about personal taste and opinion."
Sculptor Alexander Calder lived in Paris from 1926 to 1933. He kept an address list of his French connections in his handmade address book. On view in the exhibition are multiple pages, which include contact information for Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, German photographer Ilse Bing, and American composer George Antheil, among others.
Perhaps the most famous list is Pablo Picasso's recommendations for the 1913 Armory Show, the first international exhibition of Modern art in the United States. He names Marcel Duchamp, whose Nude Descending a Staircase (1912) would cause an uproar in the American press, Fernand Léger, and the Spaniard Juan Gris as candidates to be included in the exhibition. All would later become Modern masters.
On a different level, lists can be task oriented. Jeweler Margaret De Patta kept a list of orders for her Modernist creations — rings, earrings, pins, pendants, bracelets — with the name of the piece and purchaser. She obviously derived great satisfaction from finishing projects: when she completed an order, she crossed off the name of the buyer and the item, transforming her to-do list into a done list. Artist N. C. Wyeth made a list of the titles of the watercolors created by his son, Andrew, for the latter's first one-person gallery show in New York.
Lists also tell us what we have done or what we hope to do. Artist Janice Lowry's elaborate illustrated journals are peppered with to-do lists. The recurrent tasks (pay bills, make doctor's appointment) are interspersed with her dream recollections and random thoughts, each page thick with collaged images, stamps, and stickers — a vivid backdrop for her daily tours.
In some cases, lists are less about itemizing facts and more about identifying emotions. Abstract Expressionist artist Lee Krasner responded to a list of questions from an art student by enumerating her reactions to finishing, selling, and exhibiting her work.
Before the age of computers and easily updated electronic lists, artists like Philip Evergood kept current by manually adding information to their lists. Evergood made a list of photographers and framers by gluing their business cards and other contact information together in one long strip. Each new attachment expanded his network.
Lists can be ordinary but telling, as in Franz Kline's receipt from John Heller's Liquor Store in Greenwich Village, dated December 31, 1960. Presumably purchasing booze for a blowout New Year's Eve Party, Kline spent $274.51 — an extravagant sum in 1960. He had the liquor — red wines, Scotch, whisky, cognac, vermouth, and champagne — delivered to his loft at 242 West Fourteenth Street in New York City.
It comes as no surprise that artists would illustrate their lists. In 1932 painter and color theorist Oscar Bluemner made an illustrated list of his recently completed landscape paintings, including thumbnail sketches with the dimension, date, media, and sometimes the subject of the work. His list was a graphic catalog, a snapshot of his current production.
It is often the casual record that reveals the rhythms of an age. Lists, whether dashed off as a quick reminder or carefully constructed as a comprehensive inventory, give insight into the list maker's personal habits and enrich the understanding of individual biographies. In the hands of their creators, these artifacts sometimes become works of art in and of themselves.
A companion book to the exhibition, published by Princeton Architectural Press, includes an introduction by John W. Smith, director of the Archives, and an essay by Liza Kirwin, the Archives' curator of manuscripts.
Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art is organized by Liza Kirwin, the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art's curator of manuscripts. The Archives of American Art is the world's pre-eminent resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America.
This exhibition is made possible in part by the Charles E. Pierce, Jr. Fund for Exhibitions..
Eero Saarinen (1910-1961), List of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954, Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972, Cat. no. 64, Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen met his second wife, Aline (1914-1972), on January 28, 1953. Aline, then an art editor and critic at The New York Times, was writing an article on Saarinen’s new General Motors Technical Center (1955) in Warren, Michigan. They fell in love instantly. In this list, written around the time of their marriage, Saarinen enumerates Aline’s positive traits.
Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890-1973), Color wheel, Plate I, Inherent — saturation spectrum, undated, Stanton Macdonald-Wright papers, 1907-73, Cat. p. 18, Painter Robert Henri called Stanton MacDonald-Wright “the greatest master of color in painting that ever lived.” In Paris around 1912, MacDonald-Wright and another American painter, Morgan Russell, developed Synchromism, an aesthetic based on the abstract use of color and the idea that color, like music, could be orchestrated for emotional effect. On his wheel, MacDonald-Wright lists colors, diagramming the relationships between and among them and equating them with the 12 signs of the zodiac.
Franz Kline (1910-1962), Receipt, December 31, 1960, Elisabeth Zogbaum papers regarding Franz Kline, 1928-65, Cat. p. 15, An ordinary, but telling, list is Kline’s receipt from John Heller’s Liquor Store in Greenwich Village. Presumably purchasing booze for a blowout New Year’s Eve Party, Kline spent $274.51 — an extravagant sum in 1960. He had the liquor — red wines, Scotch, whisky, cognac, vermouth, and champagne — delivered to his loft. Kline and his artist friends — Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko, Larry Rivers, Michael Goldberg — were hard partiers. Drinking was part of the culture of Abstract Expressionism.
Philip Evergood (1901-1973), List of contacts, ca. 1947, Philip Evergood papers, 1910-70, Cat. no. 25, In the late 1940s, painter Philip Evergood glued and taped together scraps of paper and business cards to create this list of services available near his New York City studio, including picture framers, art dealers, galleries, an art critic, and a camera store. Presumably, Evergood pasted on new contacts as needed. It is easy to imagine, from the pinhole at the top of this well-worn list, that Evergood tacked it up in his studio and referred to it often.