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Hands-On Art History: The Treasures of the Pamphlet Files

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Since the NYPL Art & Architecture Pamphlet Files have recently been updated, it is a good time to revisit this great resource. These files contain ephemeral material relating to over 4,200 art galleries, museums, auction houses and art events that are for the most part from the New York City area but also with substantial files from all over the United States, Europe, Central and South America. There is material from the late 19th century to the present, including many items that may well be the only proof of existence for some one-time events or short-lived galleries.

It is almost impossible to single out favorite files, however one of the treasures from the turn of the 20th century can be found in the Durand-Ruel Gallery files. Durand-Ruel was a Paris based gallery that was extremely important in promoting the Impressionists. Paul Durand-Ruel opened his New York gallery in 1887. In our files we have the small original catalogs with their hand sewn bindings for an "Exposition of Forty Paintings by Claude Monet" in 1895 and "Paintings of Camille Pissarro – Views of Rouen" in 1897.

Other artists' catalogs include: a group show of Cezanne, Gauguin and Redon; Sisley and more Pissarro. There is even a "Manet to Picasso Still Life" exhibition pamphlet to benefit The Children's Aid Society in 1944—admission "55 cents including tax." This remarkable gallery closed in 1950 and the file contains the notice expressing regret and thoughtfully offering advice on where to send correspondence.

One of the most important holdings of this collection is the quantity of material relating to the rise of the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York from the late 1940s through the 1960s. Among the influential galleries represented here are Betty Parsons (opened 1946), Sidney Janis (opened 1948), Martha Jackson (opened 1953) and Leo Castelli (opened 1957).

The Sidney Janis file is especially rich and includes a "Young Painters" group show brochure from 1950 featuring Willem de Kooning, Max Ernst, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet, and Ad Reinhardt among others. There is a 1954 poster for the "9 American Painters Today" show which included Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Tobey.

From Betty Parsons there is an announcement for a Christmas show in 1946 that included Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Theodoros Stamos. The brochure from Leo Castelli's first exhibition in 1957 is here too. That show included 17 artists—among them Jean Arp, Sonia Delauney, Paul Klee, Willem de Kooning, Piet Mondrian, Arshile Gorky and Fernand Leger. Also from Castelli are a number of folded poster/mailers including what must have been an amazing two-man show in 1962 with Frank Stella and John Chamberlain.

Sidney Janis continued to break ground in 1965 with a "Pop + Op" show. A poster/mailer from that show offers works by Josef Albers, Jim Dine, Elsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg, Lucas Samaras, George Segal, Victor Vasarely, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann. An especially interesting document from the Martha Jackson file is a price list from 1957. Among the 41 artists whose works are listed: a collage and ink piece by Franz Kline for $90, Henri Moore drawings for between $500-$1500, a Willem de Kooning pastel for $650, and three small Paul Klee drawings for $350-$500. If only…

These examples are just a small selection of what the NYPL Pamphlet Files have to offer from small, obscure galleries to huge institutions. The files offer a hands-on experience with history and an opportunity to research primary sources, which can help to build a picture of an artist, a movement, or an era in a way that is unique. This wonderful resource is available in the Art and Architecture Reading Room of the Stephen A. Schwarzman building and the PDF file can always be accessed via the link from our homepage. For any questions or queries please email us at art@nypl.org.

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