Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Day in the Life: Artists' Diaries from the Archives of American Art

Where: Archives of American Art

When: through February 28, 2015

I've been to many of these little shows from the Archives of American Art, and I'm starting to wonder if perhaps the way they decorate the room is the best part of the display?  The archivists, or whoever is putting these up, transform the space, so that from one exhibit to the next, you wouldn't even realize you were in the same room.  The colors, the designs on the walls - it's all very well done and very interesting.  I see the title of the new show, and I think, "What will the room look like this time?"

One wonders, though, if this is the response the sponsors of the show want.  Would they perhaps be dismayed that I'm coming more for the style than for the substance?  Or are they happy someone's stopping by, regardless of the reason?  I won't say I'm the only person who looks at these, as there's usually at least one other person in the room with me when I visit, but I will say it's never been crowded.

Archival documents are usually not block-buster items.  Setting aside the founding documents at the National Archives, mostly archives are records of an institution - important, yes, but not exciting.  This archives is slightly different, in that it's composed of records created by and about American art, which, I grant you, is inherently more interesting than records about a widget factory.  Still, though, these are records, and they lack drama.

The current offering is about artists' diaries.  Some of them are illustrated, which is nice, and some of them are of an unusual shape - like the one pictured here, which is a huge set of little tablets.  Otherwise, though, they're diaries, and unless you're going to sit down with one and read it cover to cover, developing an interest in the author's family and friends, it's hard to find them terribly enthralling.

Plus, there's the voyeur aspect of reading that which was not meant for me to read.  In fact, the wall display this time includes a quote from Blanche Lazzell, a printmaker, who wrote in her diary that it was intended for no one's eyes but her own, and she hoped it would be burnt upon her death.  Apparently, whoever had charge of her effects didn't follow her wishes.  It made me think of the controversies over the "right to be forgotten," and the lack of privacy in electronic communications.  No matter the technology, we want to have control over how we present ourselves to the world, and we don't always get it.

One of the offerings on display was a "video diary" by Joe Hollier, an artist, filmmaker and animator.  No worries about an invasion of privacy here, but is this really a diary?  It's described as being non-chronological, and isn't that the essence of a diary?  Food for thought...

Verdict: If you're interested in the lives of artists outside of their art, stop by and have a look.  Otherwise, I think you can give this a miss.

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