From the weekly shopping list to the Ten Commandments, our lives are full of lists—some dashed off quickly, others beautifully illustrated, all providing insight into the personalities and habits of their makers. The exhibition celebrates this most common form of documentation by presenting an array of lists made by a broad range of artists from Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder to H. L. Mencken, Eero Saarinen, Elaine de Kooning, and Lee Krasner. With examples such as Picasso's picks for the great artists of his age (Gris, Léger, etc.), H. L. Mencken's autobiographical facts ("I never have a head-ache from drink"), and Robert Smithson's collection of quotations about spirals, the items on view are intriguing, revealing, humorous, and poignant.
The exhibition presents some eighty lists, including "to-dos," paintings sold, appointments made and met, supplies to get and places to see, and people who are "in." Some documents are historically important, throwing light on a moment, movement, or event; others are private, providing an intimate view of an artist's personal life. Eero Saarinen, for example, enumerated the good qualities of New York Times art editor and critic Aline Bernstein, his soon-to-be second wife. Oscar Bluemner crafted lists of color combinations for a single painting. Picasso itemized his recommendations for the ground-breaking 1913 Armory show, and Grant Wood listed previous economic depressions, perhaps with the hope that the Great Depression would soon end. In the hands of their creators, these personal artifacts sometimes become works of art in and of themselves.
Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art is organized by Liza Kirwin, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art’s Curator of Manuscripts.
This exhibition is made possible by the Charles E. Pierce, Jr. Fund for Exhibitions and by a generous gift from Liz and Rod Berens.