Archives Receives Major Grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources

By the Archives
February 3, 2012

The Archives of American Art was awarded $222,700 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation via the Council on Library and Information Resources “Hidden Collections” grant program for “Uncovering Hidden Audiovisual Media Documenting Postmodern Art.” The Archives’ project was one of only 19 selected for funding from 71 applications. Barbara Aikens, chief of collections processing, is the project director and Megan McShea is the project audiovisual archivist.

As the world’s largest archival repository devoted solely to documenting the history of the visual arts in America, the Archives’ holdings consist of close to 5,000 individual original research collections, totaling about 15,000 linear feet, and more than 2,000 oral history interviews.

This three-year project will produce detailed finding aids for 12 archival collections that are rich in rare audiovisual material. The new finding aids will be made available on the Archives’ website, dramatically increasing access to information about these hidden resources. Among the 12 targeted collections are the papers of painter Eleanor Dickinson, author Jan Butterfield, video artist Paul Ryan and the exhibition records of the Finch College Museum of Art, an early venue for video art. Funds will support an audiovisual archivist, graduate interns and a symposium.

This project will uncover films, video and sound recordings created as a record of art, artists, exhibitions and events, as well as works that are art in and of themselves-sound art, video art, outtakes and elements of multimedia productions. In some instances, performance, documentation and video art are intertwined in one recording.

The Butterfield papers contain nearly 200 audio interviews and lectures by such seminal 20th-century artists as Robert Irwin, Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman, Sam Francis, Philip Guston, David Hockney, and Judy Chicago, as well as performance and video art from the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Ryan papers contain rare documentation of the 1969 exhibition “TV as a Creative Medium” at the Howard Wise Gallery, the first exhibition in the United States devoted to video art with notable participants Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider. Among the Dickenson papers are video interviews with artists, models, art historians, and art critics. The records of the Finch College Museum of Art include a video of artist Lynda Benglis installing her works, interviews of artists Mel Bochner and Hans Richter and art dealers Leo Castelli and Betty Parsons, among others. This three-year project to arrange and describe these collections will provide a greater depth of information for the Archives’ audiovisual treasures.

As primary sources, these collections offer unique opportunities for discovery and revelation. They enrich understanding of art-world events and the lives of key participants providing firsthand accounts of seminal moments in American art history. They help people see aspects of contemporary art in new and different ways.

These audiovisual materials represent truly rare archival resources that uniquely document the recent history of contemporary art in America, but few details of this rich content are reflected in the accession-level records currently available to Archives users. A devoted project page on the Archives’ website will provide announcements, progress reports and access to guidelines, procedures and tools created during the project.

The Archives of American Art is the world’s preeminent resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America.