Words Cannot Express: Death in the Archives

October 31 - December 31, 2011

Death.

It is perhaps the only certainty in life. For those experiencing the death of a friend, family member, loved one, or an admired figure, words are often inadequate to give voice to the intense emotions involved.

When an artist dies, his or her life’s work is complete, and the building of a legacy begins. The Archives of American Art is part of that legacy-building process, preserving the remnants of artists’ lives in letters, diaries, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, and other primary records. Among these documents are countless examples of people responding to death in the art world—from letters of condolence and drafts of eulogies, to firsthand accounts of artists’ funerals and expressions of personal loss. The death of an artist evokes powerful emotions in the living, even as it crystallizes the deceased’s contributions to the art world. This exhibition presents the power of people speaking from their hearts about American art and artists.

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