Archives of American Art acquires the extensive audio and video recordings and records of Artists Talk on Art

By the Archives
October 5, 2017
Painter Larry Rivers (center) with ATOA board members Doug Sheer and Vernita Nemec at an ATOA event, February 17, 1995. 

Washington, DC…The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art announced today that it has acquired the records of Artists Talk on Art (ATOA), including audio and video recordings of more than 500 panel discussions, open screenings, and dialogues held in New York City. The most extensive audiovisual collection that the Archives has ever acquired, the gift features the voices of thousands of artists, critics, historians, dealers, curators, and writers, talking about issues in the American art world from 1975 to 2015. 

Founded in New York in 1974, and still active today, ATOA is the art world’s longest-running panel discussion series, organized by artists for artists.  ATOA’s gift to the Archives consists of the original recordings in a variety of formats, including audio cassettes, U-Matic and VHS videotape, and mini-DVDs, as well as flyers, photographs, meeting minutes, reports, and other documentation.  Along with the original material, ATOA digitized its complete collection of audio and video recordings--more than 60 terabytes of digital data—and donated them, too.

ATOA’s recordings chronicle the American art world, covering critical discussions and significant art world issues over five decades. Thousands of artists such as Will Barnet, Louise Bourgeois, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Robert De Niro, Agnes Denes, Michael Goldberg, Robert Longo, Ana Mendieta, Robert Morris, Elizabeth Murray, Alice Neel, Philip Pavia, Larry Rivers, Sylvia Sleigh, Hannah Wilke, David Wojnarowicz, and others speak about their work. ATOA’s live speaking engagements, many of which were excerpted in Judy Seigel’s book Mutiny and the Mainstream: Talk That Changed Art, 1975-1990, provide a major primary source for the history of American art.

ATOA held its first panel, “Whatever Happened to Public Art,” on January 10, 1975.  In the decades that followed, ATOA presented dozens of panels or dialogues a year, tackling such diverse topics as:

  • “What is Happening with Conceptual Art,” with Louise Lawler and Lawrence Weiner; 
  • “Painting and Photography: Defining the Difference,” with Sarah Charlesworth, Jack Goldstein, Joseph Kosuth, Barbara Kruger, and Robert Mapplethorpe;
  • “Organizing Arts Activism,” with Lucy Lippard;
  • “The Artist and the Epidemic—an information panel about AIDS”; 
  • “Cross-generational Views of Feminism”;
    and hundreds more.

The Archives is currently preparing a finding aid that will provide comprehensive, detailed information about every program. The audio and video recordings are now available to anyone visiting the Archives’ offices in Washington, DC.

“We see the fit with the Archives of American Art as uniquely perfect in that they are dedicated to maximum accessibility and democratic use, which is what we have always stood for,” said Douglas I. Sheer, co-founder and board chairman of Artists Talk on Art. “We were courted by a number of institutions and only Archives of American Art possessed the experience, capability, massive capacity, and appreciation of our historic content, which is what convinced us to choose them.” 

 “Artists Talk on Art continues a venerable tradition, extending back to the 19th century, of artists gathering in studios and clubs to talk about issues of common concern,” said Kate Haw, director of the Archives of American Art.  “We are delighted to add this extraordinary collection of thousands of diverse voices and decades of dialogue to the Archives of American Art, and grateful to the board of Artists Talk on Art for entrusting this important legacy to us.” 

About Artists Talk on Art

Established in 1974 and still active in New York, Artists Talk on Art is the art world’s longest running and most prolific aesthetic panel discussion series. Founded by Lori Antonacci, Douglas I. Sheer, and Robert Wiegand, the pluralistic forum has presented 6,000 of artists in nearly 1,000 documented panels or dialogues. (link opens in new window)