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.
Artists in the exhibition include; Anna Alfredson, Jose Manuel Arguelles, Ken Augushi, Erica Bailey, Rick Bleier, Sarah Bouchard, Louise Braverman, Tegan Brozyna, Heather Chontos, Susanne Claussen, Carol Collicutt, Lionel Cruet, Vanezza Cruz, Andrea Cukier, Peter Hamlin, Carrie Hawks, Samantha Holmes, Aya Kakeda, Rohin Khemani, Stephanie Lindquist, Stephanie Mulvihill, Maja Padrov, Patrick Perry, Henry Portillo, Mary Preston, Randy Regier, Sarah Rowe, Shelley Stefan, Rachel Sydlowski, and Natalie Collette Wood.
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Warmth, nostalgia, and kitsch play an integral role in exploring the creative possibilities of an outdated indexing system.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.
NYC, March 2018
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