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Exhibition records of the Contemporary Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art, 1943-1975

Exhibition records of the Contemporary Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art, 1943-1975

Finch College. Museum of Art

Collection Information

Size: 20.5 linear ft.

Summary: The exhibition records of the Contemporary Study Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art measure 20.5 linear feet and date from 1943 to 1975, with the bulk of records dating from the period its galleries were in operation, from 1964 to 1975. Over two-thirds of the collection consists of exhibition files, which contain a wide range of documentation including artist files, checklists, correspondence, writings, photographs, interviews, numerous films and videos, artist statements, printed materials, and other records. Also found within the collection are administrative records of the museum, artist files, and papers of the Contemporary Wing's director and curator, Elayne Varian, which were produced outside of her work at Finch College.

Administrative records include records relating to the general operation of the Contemporary Wing concerning fundraising, professional associations, budget, contact information for artists, donors, and lenders to exhibitions. Also found are records of the permanent collection of artworks acquired by the museum between 1964 and 1975 from contemporary artists and collectors of contemporary art.

Artist files contain basic biographical information on over 150 contemporary artists, with scattered correspondence, photographs, technical information about artworks, artist statements, and other writings. Artist files also include an incomplete run of artist questionnaires gathered by the New York Arts Calendar Annual for 1964.

Elayne Varian's personal papers include curatorial records, a course schedule and syllabus related to her teaching activities, and various writings. Curatorial projects documented in Varian's papers include three programs produced outside of Finch College, including a juried show at the New York State Fair in 1967, a film series at Everson Museum of Syracuse University, and an exhibition at Guild Hall in East Hampton in 1973. Several of Varian's writing projects involved interviews, which are also found in this series in the form of sound recordings and transcripts. Interview-based writing projects include individual profiles on Brian O'Doherty and Babette Newberger, and interviews conducted for an article on the artist-dealer relationship published in Art in America (January 1970). Dealers interviewed for the latter project include Leo Castelli, Virginia Dwan, John Gibson, Richard Feigen, Arnold Glimcher, Fred Mueller, Martha Jackson, Sidney Janis, Betty Parsons, Seth Siegelaub, and Howard Wise. Artists interviewed include Roy Lichtenstein, Adolph Gottlieb, and Charles Ross.

Exhibition files, comprising the bulk of the collection, document exhibitions held in the Contemporary Wing during its existence from 1964 to 1975. Types of records found in the series include exhibition catalogs, correspondence, loan agreements, lists, contact information, insurance valuations of artworks, photographs, biographical information on artists, clippings, posters, press releases, and other publicity materials. In addition to the rich textual and photographic records found for exhibitions, numerous audiovisual recordings are also found, some of which were made in preparation for an exhibition, some document mounted exhibitions, and others are artworks themselves or components of artworks exhibited in the galleries. Interviews with artists, dealers, and others involved in exhibitions include Alan Sonfist, Mel Bochner, Hans Richter, Ruth Richards, James Brooks and Janet Katz, Margaret Benyon, Irwin Hollander (transcript only), David Anderson, Doris Chase, Will Insley, Michael Kirby, Les Levine, Ursula Meyer, Brian O'Doherty, Charles Ross, Tony Smith, Douglas Davis, Jane Davis, Russ Connor, Les Levine, Michael Mazur, Paul Gedeohn, and physicists Lloyd G. Cross, Allyn Z. Lite, and Gerald Thomas Bern Pethick. Video artworks, recordings of performances, or components of multimedia artworks are found by artists Vito Acconci, Kathy Dillon, Douglas Davis, Dan Graham, Les Levine, Bruce Nauman, Michael Netter, Eric Siegel, and Robert Whitman. A film of the "Art in Process: The Visual Development of a Structure" (1966) exhibition is found, and video recordings of artists Lynda Benglis, Michael Singer, and Sam Wiener form as part of the documentation for the "Projected Art: Artists at Work" (1971) exhibition.

Biographical/Historical Note

Finch College was founded in 1900 as a private, women's college in New York City. It operated with its affiliated Museum of Art until 1975, when increased costs and a lack of an endowment forced the entire institution to close permanently.


The Archives of American Art acquired these records after the Finch College Museum of Art closed permanently in June 1975.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources. Funding for the preservation and transfer of the motion picture film provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee,and for the remaining sound and video recordings from the Smithsonian's Collection Care Pool Fund.

A Finding Aid to the Exhibition Records of the Contemporary Study Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art, 1943-1975, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
The Contemporary Study Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art, later called simply the "Contemporary Wing," was established in 1964 by the president of Finch College, Roland De Marco, as an extension the Finch College Museum of Art in New York City.
Its mission was to educate art history students at the Manhattan women's college who were interested in working in with contemporary art. DeMarco, himself an art collector, hired Elayne Varian as director and curator of the contemporary wing. DeMarco met Varian in the New York office of the prominent international art dealership Duveen Brothers, where she had worked since the mid-1940s, most recently as an art dealer. Varian received her art education in Chicago, where she studied art history and education at the University of Chicago, and took classes in film at the Bauhaus and in fine art the Art Institute of Chicago. Sensitive to emerging art movements in galleries and studios around the city of New York, as the contemporary wing's curator, Varian quickly established a reputation for thoughtfully conceived, cutting-edge exhibitions which were consistently well-received by the press.
Under Varian, the Contemporary Wing carried out a dual mission of showing work of living artists and educating students and the public about the artwork and museum work in general. Varian used the galleries to provide practical training to students interested in a gallery or museum career throughout its existence. For several years, she also maintained an assistantship position for post-graduate museum professionals to gain experience in the field, many of whom went on to careers in museums across New York State.
The Contemporary Wing's best-known exhibitions formed a series of six shows called
Art in Process
, held between 1965 and 1972. Each of the
Art in Process
shows took a different medium, including painting, sculpture, collage, conceptual art, installation art, and serial art, and brought the process of art-making into the gallery with the artworks in various ways. For example, for
Art in Process V
(1972), the show about installation art, the galleries were open to the public for the entire process of its installation, allowing visitors to watch the works take shape. Another show entitled
(1968) exhibited artworks with documentation such as artist's notes, sales records, and conservation records, bringing to light the value of record-keeping in the visual arts. Two exhibitions entitled
Projected Art
were also innovative, with the first (1966-1967) bringing experimental films from the cinema to the galleries, and the second (1971) showing artists' processes via footage and slides of artists working. Another show,
Artists' Videotape Performances
(1971), involved both screening of and creation of works in the gallery using a range of experiments with recent video technology. The museum also participated in an experimental broadcast of an artwork entitled
Talk Out!
by Douglas Davis, in which a telephone in the gallery allowed visitors to participate in its creation while it was broadcast live from Syracuse, NY. Other exhibitions that showcased experimentation in art included
N-Dimensional Space
(1970), on holography in art,
Destruction Art
(1968), on destructive actions being incorporated into contemporary art-making, and
Schemata 7
(1967), a show about the use of environments in contemporary art, whose working title was "Walk-in Sculpture."
Other popular exhibitions at the Contemporary Wing included shows on
Art Deco
(1970) and
Art Nouveau
(1969). Several shows mined the private collections of prominent contemporary art collectors including Martha Jackson, Betty Parsons, George Rickey, Paul Magriel, Jacques Kaplan, Josephine and Philip Bruno, and Carlo F. Bilotti. A number of exhibitions featured contemporary art from overseas including
Art from Belgium
Art from Finland
Seven Swedish Painters
(1965), and
Art in Jewelry
(1966), which featured mainly international jewelry artists. Retrospective exhibitions of Hans Richter, Hugo Weber, and James Brooks were also held.
Hundreds of contemporary artists were shown at the Contemporary Wing in the eleven years of its existence, including many who came to be leading figures in contemporary art, and some who already were, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Mel Bochner, Eva Hesse, Lynda Benglis, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, Lawrence Weiner, Robert Smithson, Sol Le Witt, Dan Flavin, Philip Pearlstein, and Yayoi Kusama, to name just a few.
The Contemporary Wing and the entire Finch College Museum of Art shut its doors in 1975, when Finch College closed due to lack of funds. The permanent collection was sold at that time, and the proceeds were used to pay Finch College employee salaries. Elayne Varian went on to the position of curator of contemporary art at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. She died in 1987.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 4 series.
Series 1: Administrative Records, 1950-1975 (2 linear feet; Boxes 1-2, 22, OV 23)
Series 2: Artist Files, 1958-1975 (2.2 linear feet; Boxes 3-4, 22, OV 23)
Series 3: Elayne Varian Personal Papers, 1965-1970 (1.3 linear feet; Boxes 5-6)
Series 4: Exhibition Files, 1943-1975 (14.9 linear feet; Boxes 6-22, OV 24-25, FC 26)
The Archives of American Art acquired these records after the Finch College Museum of Art closed permanently in June 1975.
Processing Information note
This collection was fully processed and a finding aid prepared by Megan McShea in 2013 with funding provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Hidden Collections" grant program. Motion picture film reel inspected and re-housed in 2016 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Additional Forms Available

All of the sound and video recordings in this collection, and two of the motion picture films, have been digitized for research access and are available at the Archives of American Art offices.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment. Use of audiovisual recordings without an access copy requires advance notice.

How to Cite This Collection

Exhibition records of the Contemporary Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art, 1943-1975. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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