Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Presents “Lists”

January 13, 2010
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The exhibition “Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art” celebrates a common document—the list—as a key to the lives of some of the most celebrated artists of the last two centuries. This exhibit will be on display from Feb. 5 to June 1 in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.


There are hundreds of thousands of lists in the Archives of American Art. This exhibition includes 40 intriguing examples from Leo Castelli’s to-do lists to Oscar Bluemner’s illustrated list of works of art. Whether dashed off as a quick reminder or carefully constructed as a comprehensive inventory, this humble form of documentation provides insight into its maker’s personal habits and decision-making processes. Pablo Picasso itemized his recommendations for the 1913 Armory Show; Robert Smithson wrote down 21 quotes about spirals around the time he completed Spiral Jetty; Eero Saarinen enumerated the good qualities of the then New York Times art editor and critic Aline Bernstein, his soon-to-be second wife; and Alexander Calder’s address book reveals the who’s who of the Parisian avant-garde in the early 20th century. 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. It is available in the museum store at the Reynolds Center and available for pre-order at online booksellers for $24.95 (paperback).


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. For more information, visit the Archives Web site at