What we hope to do, and why, and how


2 August 2010, 20.59 CET

Lisa Kerwin posts for the Design Observer about the extensive collection of lists at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art: “Every exhibition generates a list. Many are historically important, throwing a flood of light on a moment, movement, or event; others are private, providing an intimate view of an artist’s personal life.”

Bluemner List

Oscar Bluemner, list of works of art, May 18, 1932. Oscar Bluemner papers, 1886–1939, 1960. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution

Saarinen List

Eero Saarinen, list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857–1972. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution

Before the age of computers and easily updated electronic lists, artists like Benson Bond Moore and Philip Evergood kept current by manually adding information to their lists. Moore must have taken great pleasure in updating his list of prints sold from 1937 to 1939. He wrote the names of 273 collectors and their purchases on a single page until there was no more room to record another sale. The density of this register was proof of his commercial success.

Contrary to Saarinen’s self-assessment, I find that to be one of the most beautiful sentences possible, at least in American English, at least during our age.