Saturday, August 8, 2015

Will There be an App for That?

Where: Archives of American Art

When: through November 1, 2015

The Archives of American Art, that repository of all documents related to this country's art and artists, has as new show on that deals with the inter-relationships between artists, as revealed in their address books.  I've used address books for years, and still have one that I refer to, if not often, then often enough to make it worthwhile to keep it up to date.  I gather that this makes me an outlier, and that everyone keeps their contact information on their smartphones now.  In fact, the show actually offers an explanation of what an address book is - assuming that at least some of their visitors will not have ever owned or used one.

So how will future archivists unravel the web of friendships, business relationships and romances that shows how artists were related to one another and to those who supported their work?  Will they collect smartphones?  Will there be an app for that?

It occurs to me that this type of exhibit and the research behind it won't be possible in future, and it causes me to ponder (not for the first time) how much harder technology is making the job of future historians.  Gone are the letters between parted friends and family members, replaced by email or texts or tweets.  Going are the book collections, with marginalia, replaced by e-readers.  Vanished are the drafts of manuscripts, with corrections and re-writes, replaced by word processing.  Ah well, they say everything lives on forever, once it's online.  Not such a comfortable thought when one considers one's party photos, but perhaps a boon to those who will write biographies.

But enough wool-gathering, on to the show itself.  It's the standard one-room offering, so perfect for a lunch time excursion.  The decor is their usual nice touch; they seem to put as much thought into that as into the documents on display, and it really adds to the show.  The organization of an artist's address book can tell you quite a bit about their view of the person listed - what category did the person fall into?  Close friend, business contact, passing acquaintance?  The lack of organization raises questions that are perhaps unanswerable: who is this person with just a first name and a number?

In addition to "little black books," there are displays of other historical technologies: a 3.5" floppy disk, a rolodex and a pile of business cards.  The show makes references to the "speed of obsolescence," and if there's some way of measuring that, I can only imagine the number is frighteningly high.

Verdict: I liked this display, and would recommend a visit.  Make a lunch hour excursion, or tack a few minutes on to a visit to another show.  You can even use your smartphone to download interviews with artists!

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