Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Acquires Trove of 1970s' New York Photographs by Cosmos

By the Archives

September 3, 2015

Photo shows Cosmos standing in front of a blackboard which reads "Cosmos appearance series #371..."
Cosmos in Cosmos Appearance Series #371, circa 1975. Photograph by Charles DensonCosmos Andrew Sarchiapone papers, Archives of American Art.

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art has acquired the extraordinary photographic archive of Cosmos Andrew Sarchiapone (1931–2011)—or “Cosmos,” as he was known—including more than 40,000 images documenting New York’s avant-garde art scene, along with celebrity parties, concerts, openings and other occasions in the 1970s'. The collection contains black-and-white presentation prints, 4-by-5-inch work prints, negatives, contact sheets and photographic works of art, as well as rare printed materials about art-world events.

According to Milton Glaser, celebrated graphic designer and founder of New York magazine, “Cosmos was a brilliant photographer who was never without a camera….He was always everywhere. In terms of documentation of that period, there was no one like him.”

A conceptual artist, performance artist and photojournalist, Cosmos left his archive in the care of Catherine Morris, now a curator at the Brooklyn Museum, who met him when she was researching her 1998 exhibition on FOOD, the legendary artist-run restaurant in SoHo. Morris facilitated the donation of the archive to the Archives of American Art from Cosmos’ brother, Tom Sarchiapone.

Cosmos extensively photographed performances and installations at 112 Greene Street in SoHo, which was established by Jeffrey Lew, Alan Saret and Gordon Matta-Clark in a rag-picking factory. The self-curated, interdisciplinary art space nurtured the experiments of a number of now significant American artists, dancers and musicians, including Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Suzanne Harris and Phillip Glass, all of whom appear in the archive. There are also hundreds of images of 112 Greene Street’s sister space, Matta-Clark’s FOOD, an artist-run eatery at the corner of Prince and Wooster Streets where exotic meals were offered up as both performance art and nourishment.

Cosmos photographed artist Joseph Beuys daily for one month in 1974. The archive holds more than 400 images of Beuys at 112 Greene Street and elsewhere in New York City, including the iconic image of the artist in a fur-collared coat that appeared on his Ronald Feldman Gallery announcement.

“Cosmos would appear, take these wonderful photographs, then disappear,” said Ron Feldman, longtime New York art dealer. “He didn’t ask for money, and we didn’t pay him. He enjoyed taking photos and making an historical record of people he admired. It’s so beautiful that the Archives of American Art has collected his archive. I’m thrilled with this news.”

As a freelance photographer for New York magazine and other mass-market publications, Cosmos photographed Andy Warhol and his circle, Halloween parties at the Waldorf, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon convention, the Jesus Joy Jubilee at Carnegie Hall, the Beat Poets’ reunion and private parties attended by Hollywood actors and directors, often capturing the overlapping worlds of art, movies and music.

Cosmos also worked at Push Pin Studios, the design studio founded by Glaser and Seymour Chwast. The archive contains more than 100 posters from the 1970s, including a number of Glaser’s, and hundreds of exhibition announcements, theater programs and playbills offering a visual chronical of the downtown art world.

“It is extremely rare to find a collection that tells the story of a key place and time in America’s art and cultural history with the depth, intimacy and candor that we see in the Cosmos collection,” said Kate Haw, director of the Archives of American Art. “We are enormously grateful to Tom Sarchiapone for his gift of this important resource, which we know will be well used by researchers from around the world.”  

“This archive is the perfect complement to the archives about specific artists of the 1960s' and 70s' that we’re now collecting,” said Annette Leddy, New York Collector for the Archives of American Art. “When you look at Cosmos’ photographs, you’re immersed in that vanished New York, the everyday context in which the artists moved and worked.”

Cosmos’ intriguing conceptual art pieces, which are in this gift to the Archives of American Art, often incorporate aspects of his photography about artists, including two serial works that Cosmos made from fragments of Diane Arbus’ discarded photographs, mounting and sequencing them in a way that both recalls and transforms iconic Arbus images.

Cosmos studied studio art and music composition at Syracuse University, graduating in 1958, then informally studied music with John Cage and photography with Arbus. A loner who had largely withdrawn from the world by the 2000s, Cosmos died in 2011. “Cosmos was a truly eccentric genius,” Glaser said. “There was no place for him in the universe.”

Founded in 1954, the Archives of American Art fosters advanced research through the accumulation and dissemination of primary sources, unequaled in historical depth and breadth, that document more than 200 years of the nation’s artists and art communities. The Archives provides access to these materials through its exhibitions and publications, including the Archives of American Art Journal, the longest-running scholarly journal in the field of American art. An international leader in the digitizing of archival collections, the Archives also makes more than 2 million digital images freely available online. The oral-history collection includes more than 2,200 audio interviews, the largest accumulation of in-depth, first-person accounts of the American art world.

For more information, visit the Archives’ website at www.aaa.si.edu and follow the Archives on Twitter at @ArchivesAmerArt.