The majestic renovation of the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library now known as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library – new atrium, new nursery, new roof terrace, new name – also resulted in a homecoming of one of the lesser-known wonders of the NYPL. This marvel, the picture collection, is an archive of more than a million printed pictures, organized in alphabetical folders from abacus to zoology, available for visitors – immigrants, historians, illustrators, set designers, and others – to browse and check out, like Books. For many years beginning in 1915, the collection resided in Room 100 of the Research Library on Fifth Avenue; now, after decades in mid-Manhattan, it’s back. There on a Wednesday the head of the library’s art department, Joshua Chuang, met with photographer Arnold Hinton and artist Taryn Simon. Simon researched the picture collection for nine years; It was there that she met Hinton, who worked in the library in the 1950s and 1960s. Hinton, eighty-one, wore a shirt of bright yellow lemons and was leaning on a rollator. He looked around with a sharp expression. “This area was where we were working: tearing up, cutting, cutting out, filing the pictures in folders,” he said. “There were gray garbage cans at this height. People should take things out and work on a seating area. But most people, including Andy Warhol, just stood at the trash cans and chose what they wanted. “
Of all the famous artists who used the picture collection in the 20th century – Diego Rivera, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Joseph Cornell, Art Spiegelman – Warhol is perhaps the most notorious. “People would steal things,” said Hinton. “Andy Warhol would take the pictures and not give them back.” Warhol was a regular. “I think the biggest thing I remember about Andy Warhol was handing things over to him,” Hinton continued. “And Romana, she always thought he was joking.” Romana Javitz was the influential long-time curator of the collection. “People say, ‘Well, what do you think of him?’ We were both young and I was too busy thinking about myself unlike whoever he was. He was just this thin guy with blond hair, that’s basically what he was. “
Simon, a lifelong New Yorker, was fascinated by the picture collection as a child, and her art often focuses on organizational systems; her new book “The Color of a Flea’s Eye: The Picture Collection” and accompanying exhibitions at Gagosian and the NYPL indulge in the intricacies and history of the collection, as well as Javitz’s paramount role in differentiation. (Simon is making a short film about Javitz.) With Simon’s book, Chuang turned to photographs that Simon had taken in the Warhol Museum archives: collages that Warhol had obtained from advertisements for Dr. Scholls, Coca-Cola, and Campbell’s soup. “Look, there is a stamp here that says ‘New York Public Library Picture Collection,'” Chuang said.
“They match the paintings and the dates match,” said Simon. She was double masked (“I have children”) and wore a green pinafore over a green shirt. “There is a painting called ‘Dr. Scholl’s Corns’, that’s straight from it. “
“You are also looking at this level of interpretation,” said Chuang. He leafed through a folder. “I love that: classified as an ‘accident’. Here’s a horse accident. Here’s a candlestick accident. ”Librarians took note of customer inquiries. “People would ask about things they would never have thought of, ‘Milking a cow without a chair’ or whatever,” Hinton said. In a handwritten log from the years 1917-25, many wishes were fulfilled (“airships”, “telegraph”, “harvest”); some didn’t have it (“Hopp my thumb”, “Boots red handed”, “Alex the Gt. cuts the Gordian knot”).
On the third floor, in the elegant print and photography study, the three sat at a polished table looking at valuable prints – Evans, Lange, Weegee, Brassa – which were eventually selected from the collection of pictures in circulation. “They were afraid someone like Andy Warhol would check them out,” Chuang said. He opened a box. “So Arnold, we found you through that box,” he said. “Do you see that?” In 1963 he presented him with a photo of a double Dutch scene in Harlem in which a man in a suit was jumping with rope.
“Wow,” said Hinton, peering at it.
“That’s what I said,” said Chuang. “‘Impressive! Who is this Arnold Hinton?’ “Hinton, who grew up in Harlem, studied at the Pratt Institute and New School with Lisette Model; he found success as a photographer after leaving the library with encouragement from Javitz.” A lot of my photos are waist-high, “said Hinton: “I don’t look into the camera. Lisette always asked me: ‘How did you do that?’ A lot of it was about being in environments where it was physically harmful or in a country where I was the only one who looked the way I looked. “Hinton is black.” I got guns put on my head ‘Made films, I got locked up because I’m a photographer, “he said. They passed on more Hintons from the early sixties:” Black and white viewers “,” Girl skipping manhole “,” 2 black nationalists “.” This young lady was with Muhammad Ali at a black Muslim rally and I photographed them, “said Hinton. Then: a double shot.” Jesus, “he said. It was a close-up portrait of a woman in Mexico from 1963.” I was looking for it ” “He said.” This is the photo that Romana saw that made it clear to her that I was a photographer. “He did not know how his work got into the picture collection. ♦
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