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Art July, 8 2011

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations

On view at The Morgan Library through October 2, 2011, Lists takes a humorous look at a ubiquitous part of our daily lives.

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. The exhibition 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. With 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 presents some eighty 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. In the hands of their creators, these personal artifacts sometimes become works of art in and of themselves.

Shown above: Adolf Konrad, packing list, December 16, 1963. Adolf Ferdinand Konrad papers, 1962–2002. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution.


Selectism