The New York Public Library’s Harry Belafonte 115th Street branch will host the exhibition Infinite Archive: NYPL, from Thursday, April 5, 2018 through Tuesday, September 4, 2018 on the second floor of the Library at 203 West 115th Street. The exhibition introduces a diverse group of 30 artists, each responding to a book, poem, periodical or other archival material from The New York Public Library’s vast collection. The opening reception will be held on Thursday, April 5th from 5:00-6:30 pm.
The art collective, Infinite Archive, curated the exhibition to include artists working across a wide spectrum of media. The pieces range from paintings, prints, photography, assemblage as well as wood, metal and ceramic sculpture in response to fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, and prints in the NYPL’s collection. The breadth of artwork reflects the broad nature of the Library’s holdings.
Responding directly to literary works, each artwork presents a complex dialogue between the artist and the selected text. Housed within a vintage card catalog, visitors are encouraged to discover varied artworks as they open each drawer. Many artworks include interactive elements, such as solving a puzzle, exploring a maze or unfolding an abstract painting.
The Harry Belafonte 115th Street branch of The New York Public Library opened on November 6, 1908 and was built with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. Over the past century, the library has evolved into a focal point of community activity, learning, and artistic production. In 2017, the branch adopted its new name in honor of civil rights leader and entertainer Harry Belafonte, whose incredible career illustrates his value for open, free, and equal access to education and opportunity.
Warmth, nostalgia, and kitsch play an integral role in exploring the creative possibilities of an outdated indexing system. A digital version of this system exists and is used with great success and efficiency, yet it lacks physical agency. This absence of paper, wood, and the accompanying olfactory sensations are transmigrations of the library soul from the analog to digital. Something comforting, familiar and universal is gained with reclaiming the physical presence of the card catalog. The discrete interior space of each drawer, allotted to artists, mixes the familiar and unfamiliar, an uncanny experience of going into the past and finding things not quite as you remember them.
Thirty artists were asked to select anything from the New York Public Library’s holdings. The array is vast, from digitized prints to periodicals, novels, poems and children’s books. The relationship between the constructed mental image and the physical object that are the product of a singular source is a unique sensation. It’s something akin to reading the book and seeing the film, at times harmoniously congruent or jarringly disturbing. An exploratory spirit is required to access the various outcomes; one must physically pull to reveal what is hidden within each drawer.
In many ways, selecting artists and placing artworks within the cabinet, in many ways is the unraveling of indexing. Placing no restrictions on material or content lends itself to a balance of organization and entropy. With the end results nestled into the tight dimensions of each drawer, the artworks are as varied and broad as the collection of the New York Public Library itself.
In closing, the spirit of the project remains humble and direct. Consensus and lack of hierarchy fueled the process from conceptualization to installation. We remain ardent supporters of activating public spaces and presenting the visual arts in places that are both accessible and welcoming. We would like to thank the thirty artists who selflessly agreed to create new artwork for this project: Helen Broady, Jenny Chisnell, Tequila Davis and the entire staff of the 115th Street Library who graciously worked alongside us and hosted the exhibition. Special thanks to Dr. Sharon Jordan for her thoughtful essay that accompanies this catalog and for being a patient teacher and mentor to many of the collaborating artists.
Books entertain and educate; they challenge and inspire; and they transport. Infinite Archive’s intimate and highly personal exhibition does all of this as well by inviting thirty artists to make a work inspired by material in the collection of the New York Public Library. Each artwork fits within one drawer of a de-commissioned card catalogue. Though the exhibition is contained neatly within the wooden cabinet, the result is expansive in its range of materials and the ideas and narratives evoked for contemplation.
Like handling a book, and like thumbing through an old card catalogue, there is a satisfying tactile materiality to the range of media used in the making of these diverse artworks. The appreciation for craft evident throughout is a confirmation of art for art’s sake. An etched copper plate with applied gold leaf and plaster thumb exquisitely illustrates King Midas and the Golden Touch. There is a modernist geometric abstraction in ceramic, several intricately cut paper works and richly layered collages and mixed media assemblages, including an architectural relief in wood inspired by the prints of Piranesi. One of the most delightful pieces is the landscape featuring audio of bird songs inspired by a book called At the End of Daybreak.
Like a book, each drawer is a self-contained world reflecting the style and personality of its creator. Several works arouse an equal curiosity about the book that served as their source of inspiration as they do about the work of their artist. These include the ethereal abstraction inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ El Aleph; the silkscreen and collage reminiscent of a treasured family album inspired by In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez; and the day-glow creature in its psychedelic galaxy inspired by Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell.
On a visit to the library, there is always the possibility of the chance discovery of an unknown book that opens us up to something new and wonderful that we didn’t know we needed until it was found. The silkscreen Étoiles features a whimsical mythological creature that beckons the viewer to further investigate its source from a book called Celestial Treasury. The spiraling collage inspired by the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and the mixed media interior scene referencing the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov are reminders of the pleasures of revisiting favorite authors again and again. Many of the artworks are testimonials to the importance of literary inspiration among the artists: On the Road by Jack Kerouac is conjured up in a densely organized pen and ink drawing; The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is depicted in a stark and dramatic woodblock print and Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown is humorously condensed in a lush painting featuring a Classical male nude bombarded by grapefruits.
Some artworks echo the systematized organization of information used in card catalogues or in the collection of specimens in a natural history museum or objects in a Baroque cabinet of curiosities, especially the painted fabric insects with one lone figure pinned to their backing in the piece inspired by Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell; the bountiful flower arrangement in the collage inspired by Native American Food Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary; the delicate topographical map made from pages of The Language of Instinct by Steven Pinker; and a small white sculpture in two identical parts referencing a book called The Brain: The Story of You. Several works take children’s books as their inspiration. The interactive puzzle and the plexiglass maze are playful ways to introduce young visitors to reading and to art as joyful and satisfying pursuits. This unique exhibition rewards those whose love of books and of art is intertwined with an appreciation for wonder and a joy in discovery.
Art Department, Lehman College, CUNY
Infinite Archive, MJM
Responding to the unique history, archives and architecture of Morris-Jumel Mansion three artists have reinterpreted archival objects into a site-specific installation. Ceramic objects, jewelry and artists’ books present a visual interpretation based on different areas of research by each artist. This shifting focus addresses how histories drift over time and how certain historical narratives become prominent while others recede into obscurity.
This collection of artist’s books explores issues in architecture, identity and history relating to the Morris-Jumel Mansion. In her book focusing on portraiture and pattern, Rachel Sydlowski prints historical portraits of women and remnants of wallpaper over maps of New York City from the 18th century. Gold Napoleon bees are inserted and sewn between the folds of the accordion construction. The portraits and maps are inverted in the second half of the book alluding to Eliza Jumel’s lifelong reversals of fortune and crafty reinventions. Sarah Rowe melds and associates components related to mansion’s garden from blueprints, planting plans and botanical prints related to mansion’s garden. Rowe is interested in the historical and contemporary significance of the plants in the garden as well as the exquisite design of the garden house and sundial. Patrick Perry’s book holds a collection of six cyanotype postcards referencing the architecture of the Morris-Jumel Mansion and personal letters exchanged between Stephen and Eliza Jumel. Blueprints from the archive serve as a point of visual reference and draw attention to the architectural structure as a living document.
A series of ceramic ginger jars constructed by Rachel Sydlowski address how decorative objects are used to establish and assert social position and power in a domestic setting. Portraits of society women on the surface of the jars are appropriated from the National Portrait Gallery Archive. Their likeness has been removed and replaced with wallpaper patterns from various periods of the mansion’s history, alluding to Eliza’s shapeshifting identities. Gold luster bees swarm the jars, reflecting Eliza’s fascination with collecting imperial objects belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte, possibly a manifestation of her steadfast conviction of achieving financial security and social status. While ginger jars were initially used to store and transport spices, they have been used chiefly as decorative objects since the 19th century. The dialogue between utilitarian object, the shipping of luxury items and decorative objects are reflective of her first husband’s mercantile background and Eliza’s unusual deliverance from destitution.
A series of heavily etched wearable objects constructed of sterling silver and copper created by Patrick Perry are a direct response to the handwritten letters between Eliza and her husband Stephen Jumel. The archival letters reveal an accretion of private exchanges, ranging from the quotidian to the intimate. Perry has chosen to pay homage to these intimate written exchanges by etching fragments of the letters directly onto copper plates. The material shift from pen and ink to metal raises questions about impermanence and indelibility and public and private lives.
In her porcelain relief tiles, Sarah Rowe amalgamates architectural elements from the Morris-Jumel Mansion using direct impressions, cut-outs and screenprints from existing and unrealized architectural details from the Morris-Jumel Mansion. These tiles are specifically concerned with the subtle, intimate nuances of the mansion that are often overlooked by the casual visitor but would have been readily apparent to members of the Jumel and Morris families. Rowe highlights friezes, architectural motifs, and soffits using both intaglio and relief techniques. The tiles also consider how architecture changes or decays over time and index subtle changes in the the Morris-Jumel mansion’s facade.
photo credits: Max Yawney
History of the Present
Rather than try to reduce America to one discourse, this collection of objects addresses complex narratives and the shape-shifting mappings of time, space and power. Awareness of time and history becomes plastic, as artists reorganize the past and reconfigure power structures of the present. The familiar is presented as the unfamiliar, an inversion of the American narrative is retold and reorganized.
The works in this exhibition elicit a discourse about permanence, impermanence, history, and memory. The artists ask the viewer: “Who are the stewards of American history?”, “What is suitable for publication and what is censored?”, and “What is the nature of power and how does it inform our identity as Americans?” Questions emerge as to what has been excised, fractured, or scrambled within the narrative of American history.
Each artist addresses these issues using a variety of materials, approaches and contexts. Rose DeSiano’s photographic collages present a complex portrait of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her large scale predella explores historical concerns through photography and digital manipulation. DeSiano records historical imagery while reconsidering the relationship of past and present. Reproducing fractured text and imagery from The New York Times, Shanti Grumbine’s prints question power and value structures in print media addressing what is lost as experiences are transformed into newsworthy articles. Through a myriad of precise cuts, the viewer is left to imagine what has been excised. Valerie Hegarty’s mixed media works expose the dark side of American history and examine the concepts of repression, decay, and dissolution in the American historical narrative by reference to common North American motifs. As a first person witness in his Tile Paintings and Night Vision series, artist and Iraq war veteran James Raczkowski recovers and records historical monuments destroyed in recent conflicts and uses memory to fuel these intense visual representations of war. Melissa Vandenburg’s Burn Drawings present a series of American visual icons and patriotic words addressing the fragility of American patriotism today and the nature of power and permanence in the American political landscape.
Memory, history, and imagination are deeply enmeshed in this exhibition as power structures are questioned, examined, and recontextualized. As a collective whole, the artwork asks the viewer to consider the mercurial dialogue between present and past.
Elm Street Project
Documenting social and economic shifts in cities along the northern border of New York City, I explore neighborhoods sharing a common street name. Visiting Elm Streets of New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Yonkers, I collect imagery through field notes, drawing and digital photography. From this limited taxonomy of images I construct large-scale biomorphic screen prints of imaginary landscapes and neighborhoods. These collage prints use repeated imagery as a way of punctuating visually significant structures in a defined territory and as a way of examining systems of living in areas that have gone through dramatic change in the last century.
Case Study II
Case Study II: site-specific installation
Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, NY
Case Study II examines the events leading to the loss of ownership and demolition of a Massachusetts homestead. Artifacts of the subsequent dissolution of the family are presented in a broad range of outcomes, from found objects in vitrines to freestanding sculpture incorporating wood, ceramics, and an audio guide. The authorship and authenticity of each object is called into question.
Unanswerable questions are addressed through this project. When does an object go out of existence, as opposed to merely changing? Do things and ideas stop being when they do not exist in our memory?
Case Study I
Screen prints on paper and silk, ribbon, LED lights
The Castle Gallery at The College of New Rochelle will host Intersecting Editions — a dialogue between print and ceramic media. The exhibit runs from Tuesday, September 2, through Sunday, November 2, 2014. The opening reception takes place on Thursday, September 18 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. The gallery is located on the New Rochelle campus at 29 Castle Place.
This exhibition challenges the traditional assumption that artists pursue one material and methodology at a time, by showing the complex dialog between print and ceramic media. Though the two disciplines each developed through independent paths, with unique histories of technique and artistic styles, artists in this exhibit embrace “a post-disciplinary spirit” that goes beyond strict roles of ceramic artist or printmaker. By blending identities the artists have opened new avenues that combine techniques from both disciplines.
Curators Sarah Rowe and Rachel Sydlowski, who both incorporate printmaking and ceramics in their own studios, have put together an exhibit that shows the results of interdisciplinary thinking between ceramics and printmaking. The outcomes range from traditional forms of reproducibility to cast sculpture and ephemeral performance-based methods of mark-making, as well as printmaking methods such as slip cast multiples, screen printing, decals, video, and photography.
Rowe explains, “We chose to focus on crossing disciplines because many artists today are working in a cross-disciplinary way. The connections between printmaking and ceramics are not often directly highlighted in a gallery or museum setting. Though decals and mold making have been employed within the ceramics field for hundreds of years we wanted to investigate how artists are exploring and stretching this ever evolving relationship between printmaking and ceramics. Each piece in the show speaks to a different level of crossing disciplines.”
Artists in the exhibition include: Dylan J. Beck, Alison Carey, Ane Fabricius Christiansen, Christine Facella, Future Retrieval, Sin-ying Ho, Jessica Kreutter, Matthew McConnell, Scott Rench, Hope Rovelto, Amanda Small, and W.A. Ehren Tool.
Screen prints on paper, LED lights
Installation, dimensions variable
Using a matrix of screen printed images this installation presents an ephemeral version of Untermyer Park. Printed versions of plants, garden architecture and decorative objects transform unlikely spaces into elaborate paper garden. The conceptual border and lack of framing create an experience blurring the lines between authenticity and myth. The uncanny illusion of a natural environment, contrasted with the authentic nature of outdoors, is similar to our relationship with public parks in urban areas. We allow ourselves to enjoy the wildness of the seemingly undeveloped areas of urban parks. Yet, urban parks have been carefully constructed to elicit an experience of being in wilderness. Bringing a printed version of the garden to interior architectural spaces is similar to our relationship with parks in urban environments. This project aims to bring a facsimile of an outdoor garden inside creating a dialog between the interior and exterior.
Porcelain, screen prints, wood, paint
Using porcelain, screen prints and wood, this series focuses on idealistic aims of decorative objects, the futility of preservation and the collapse of craft.
A summer in Maine, a Brunswick flea market photo album paired with my undying curiosity with all things New England led to this project. Starting with a series of 100 drawings based on old black and white photos, the drawings were turned into aquatint etchings. These etching were then folded into simple paper structures reflecting frugal and functional architecture of rural Maine. Most of the printing was done on the eve of Hurricane Sandy and the installation images and video in the days after the hurricane.
Aquatint, paper structures
Installation & Video
Score by James Eiteljorge
Bristol Project : site specific installation in a 1780's private home in Bristol, RI