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New York Public Library Exhibition Explores the Far-Ranging Influence of a Fabled Artist's Retreat

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<p>Yaddo: Making American Culture on view October 24, 2008 -- February 15, 2009</p>

New York, NY, October 24, 2008 - The iron gate that has welcomed generations of artists to Yaddo is now welcoming guests of The New York Public Library to a new exhibition about the fabled artists’ retreat, Yaddo: Making American Culture.

Founded more than a century ago on a wooded 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York, Yaddo has nurtured the creative work of some of the nation’s most distinguished writers, composers, performers and visual artists, while fostering a multitude of friendships, rivalries, collaborations and cross-influences. Artists who have worked at Yaddo have garnered 63 Pulitzer Prizes, 58 National Book Awards, 25 MacArthur “genius” awards, 8 Emmy Awards, a Nobel Prize, and countless other honors. By making a multigenerational community out of these artists, Yaddo has helped to forge a distinctive American tradition in the arts.

Now The New York Public Library explores the far-ranging influence of Yaddo, and opens a window onto some of the most significant events in twentieth-century life as experienced by its artists, in this richly detailed multimedia exhibition. The free exhibition is on view from October 24, 2008 to February 15, 2009 in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall (First Floor) of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Sociologist and cultural critic Micki McGee, Fordham University, has served as the Spencer Trask & Co. Curator for Yaddo: Making American Culture.

Through a lively mixture of letters, papers, photographs, books, artworks, film clips and sound recordings Yaddo: Making American Culture offers a rare glimpse into the workings of this most private of institutions, revealing how it has hosted such luminaries as James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Aaron Copland, Philip Guston, Patricia Highsmith, Jacob Lawrence, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and Sylvia Plath. At the same time, the exhibition provides a new perspective on public events throughout the period. The economic and social turmoil of the 1930s, the destruction and displacements of World War II, the paranoia of the McCarthy era, the strife born of resistance to Jim Crow segregation, and the rise of the feminist and gay rights movements are among the developments that shaped Yaddo, the lives of the artists who sought shelter there and the works they produced. As a result, the exhibition gives an intimate yet panoramic view of American culture, from Yaddo’s first official season in 1926 through 1980.

The exhibition showcases extraordinary materials from the Yaddo Records—the retreat’s uniquely fascinating archive, which reveals the story of Yaddo and its artists. Since 1999, the Records have been a part of The New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division, which makes them publicly accessible to researchers and preserves them for future generations. Additional installments to
the Library’s holdings from Yaddo’s ongoing records will be made through 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Yaddo’s first official season for invited guests. Joining the wealth of materials from the Yaddo Records in the exhibition are exceptional items from other NYPL collections, from Yaddo’s holdings of rare books and artworks and from other lenders.

“The Yaddo Records are a prized holding of The New York Public Library,” stated Paul LeClerc, President of the Library. “We take great pride in being able to offer the public access to materials that were once only accessible by a few. Our collection of Yaddo materials and the exhibition itself will be an exciting and eye-opening experience for anyone with an interest in American culture and the arts.”

“We are honored that The New York Public Library has chosen to make Yaddo the centerpiece of its fall and winter exhibition program,” stated Elaina H. Richardson, President of The Corporation of Yaddo. “Thanks to the Library’s enthusiasm, the cooperation of the lenders to the exhibition and the expert curatorship of Micki McGee, Yaddo: Making American Culture will initiate a festive celebration of Yaddo, in New York City and around the country.”

Plan of the Exhibition

Yaddo: Making American Culture unfolds its story in seven sections, organized according to the overall themes of what is given at Yaddo, and what is made.

Visitors enter the first section, What Is Given, through the actual Yaddo gate—brought to the Library for the exhibition—and are immediately surrounded by the atmosphere of the estate in its early years. Here visitors learn how the wealthy Spencer and Katrina Trask acquired Yaddo, remade it over the years and eventually resolved to convert it into a retreat for artists. Among the rare materials in this gallery is a portrait painting of Katrina Trask by Eastman Johnson, photographs of life at Yaddo taken by Spencer Trask, and a hand-drawn map of the grounds by artist Philip Reisman.

Refuge examines the different functions of Yaddo as a safe haven: from the bustle of city life, from the economic pressures of the Depression, from political persecution during the rise of European fascism. A stained-glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany offers a pastoral view of the Yaddo grounds. Pictures by artists such as Louis Lozowick reflect the turmoil beyond Yaddo’s gate in the 1930s. Correspondence from Newton Arvin to Truman Capote tells the story of how Yaddo gave a place in America to the Danish novelist and political refugee Karin Michaëlis.

Running down the middle of the exhibition hall is Community. The centerpiece of this section is the Yaddo dining table, around which the resident artists gather every day. Projected onto the table are the names of artists, both celebrated and obscure, who were guests at Yaddo during the time period of the exhibition, from 1926 to 1980. A wall projection at the far end of the gallery displays maps of the social networks developed and fostered at Yaddo. Other highlights of this section include a colorful selection of handmade holiday cards from Yaddo artists.

Contention shows how Yaddo has been not only a refuge from the world’s conflicts but also a place where they have been played out. Compelling letters, photographs, books, press clippings and documents from the 1930s through 1960 reveal the struggles at Yaddo over admitting African American artists such as Langston Hughes and James Baldwin; the clash over accusations of covert Communist influence at the retreat; and the tragic outcome of the police persecution of Newton Arvin—literary scholar, long-time Yaddo advisor, and lover and mentor of the young Truman Capote—because of his homosexuality.

In contrast to the conflicts seen in Contention, Collaboration concentrates on the artistic partnerships that have emerged among Yaddo’s guests. Outstanding among these were the highly influential music festivals (later known as the Music Periods) that Aaron Copland originated in 1932, and that continued through 1952. At audio stations, visitors are able to hear historic recordings from the Yaddo festivals, as well as examples of collaborations among Yaddo’s writers and composers, including Ned Rorem’s settings of poems by Elizabeth Bishop.

Recognition explores how the reputations of Yaddo artists have fared over the years and considers the role of Yaddo in raising or lowering the barriers between high art and popular culture. Books, papers and other materials in this section reflect the diminishing fame of once-celebrated authors such as Evelyn Scott, James T. Farrell and Josephine Herbst; document Yaddo’s decision in 1967 not to admit sculptor Eva Hesse (now seen as one of the key artists of her generation); and provide insight into the careers of Yaddo authors such as Mario Puzo and Irving Stone, who gained popular success but paid for it with a loss of critical esteem.

The final section, Made at Yaddo,is devoted to a summary of the work that has been produced thanks to the retreat, which according to John Cheever has “seen more distinguished activity in the arts than any other piece of ground in the English-speaking community or perhaps in the entire world." In this section, visitors may listen to excerpts of music by composers including Marc Blitzstein and Leonard Bernstein; see original works by visual artists including Milton Avery, Clyfford Still, Philip Guston, George Rickey and Anne Truitt; view a montage by artist Shelly Silver, developed from films based on the works of Yaddo authors; and stand at the foot of a towering pile of more than a thousand books, representing only a fraction of the works published by authors within five years of their residence at Yaddo, 1926-1980.

 

Major Companion Volume to the Exhibition
Yaddo: Making American Culture, edited by exhibition curator Micki McGee, offers a fascinating glimpse into Yaddo and the lives and historical circumstances of the artists who lived and worked there. Richly illustrated with photographs, prints, intimate letters, documents and ephemera, primarily from archives and collections at Yaddo and at The New York Public Library, the volume includes essays by Marcelle Clements, David Gates, Allan Gurganus, Tim Page, Ruth Price, Helen Vendler, Barry Werth, and Karl Emil Willers; an introductory overview by Micki McGee; and a Yaddo timeline. Published in cloth and paperback by Columbia University Press in association with The New York Public Library, the book is available in The Library Shop.

 

Free Public Programs - Yaddo: Making American Culture

 

Curatorial Lecture

Humanities and Social Sciences Library

Celeste Bartos Education Center, South Court

Wednesday, January 14, at 6 p.m.

Repeated Tuesday, February 10, at 2 p.m.

 

An illustrated lecture by exhibition curator Micki McGee about the themes and content of the exhibition.

 

Film Programs

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Bruno Walter Auditorium, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza

 

Yaddo Authors on Film

Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m.: January 6, 13, 20, 27; February 3, 10

 

Film adaptations of works by Yaddo writers in residence, including Patricia Highsmith, Carson McCullers, John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Walter Mosley and Raymond Carver.

 

Yaddo Filmmakers

Fridays at 2:30 p.m.: January 9, 16, 23, 30; February 6, 13

Special screening of The City, with program following: Wednesday, February 11,
at 6 p.m. at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library

 

Works by filmmakers who have had residencies at Yaddo, among them Laurel Chiten, Shelly Silver, Su Friedrich, Abigail Child and Ralph Steiner.

 

Special Screeningof The City

A special screening of the 1939 documentary The City in the South Court Auditorium on Wednesday, February 11, at 6 p.m. will be followed by a conversation between Joseph Horowitz (Artistic Director, Post-Classical Ensemble), who prepared liner notes on the Aaron Copland score for the new Naxos DVD release of the film; and documentary filmmaker/scholar George Stoney. The City (screening only; no program) will also be shown on February 13 at the Library for the Performing Arts.

 

These programs are free on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information about these and other Library programs and classes, pick up a copy of the Now brochure, available in Astor Hall, or visit www.nypl.org/southcourt or www.nypl.org/lpa.

 

Panel Discussions

 

Fordham University, Lincoln Center,

Pope Auditorium, 113 West 60th Street

 

The Lowell Affair: Catholics, Communists, and Yaddo’s Red Scare

Wednesday, October 29, at 6 p.m.

 

 

In February 1949, poet Robert Lowell ignited controversy and created dissent in the ordinarily quiet community of Yaddo with allegations that the renowned artists’ retreat had been harboring Communists. The ensuing imbroglio, known as "the Lowell Affair,” has since become the stuff of literary legend, as anti-Communist Catholics, including Lowell and Flannery O'Connor, faced off against members of the literary Left. Months before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s nationwide campaign made the “Red Scare” the central preoccupation of America, Yaddo served as the stage for the culture war to come.

 

Hosted by the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University, this panel discussion on the Lowell Affair will include speakers Paul Elie, author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own; Saskia Hamilton, editor of The Letters of Robert Lowell; Steven Axelrod, author of Robert Lowell: Life and Art; Vince Passaro, Yaddo’s director of special projects; and guest curator Micki McGee.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are encouraged. To make a reservation, or for additional information, e-mail cacs@fordham.edu or call 718.817.0662.

 

College of Arts and Science at New York University
100 Washington Square East

A series of three panel discussions organized by Matthew S. Santirocco, Seryl Kushner Dean of the College of Arts and Science at New York University, will use the experience of Yaddo to explore questions of High and Low Culture (November 12, moderated by Marcelle Clements), Arts Patronage and Social Policy (December 4, moderated by Rick MacArthur) and Culture Wars from the 1930s Until Now (February 4, moderated by Marianne Weems).
 

Docent Tours

Free public tours of the exhibition are conducted Monday through Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. All group tours, including school groups, must be scheduled well in advance. Unauthorized tours are not permitted. To schedule a tour, call 212.930.0650. Group tour fees are $7 per person ($5 for seniors); there is no charge for full-time students.

 

 

Exhibition Support
For their support of the exhibition, The New York Public Library is grateful to The Corporation of Yaddo and its donors: The Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, Spencer Trask & Co., Mary H. White and J. Christopher Flowers, the New York Council for the Humanities, public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, George Rickey Foundation, Inc., Harold Reed, Allan Gurganus, Peter C. Gould, Anthony and Margo Viscusi, Susan Brynteson, Nancy Sullivan, Bruce and Ellen Cohen, Rick Moody, Barbara Toll, Rackstraw Downes, Matthew Stover, Van der Veer Varner, Gardner McFall and Peter Olberg, Joseph Caldwell, John Ashbery, Geoffrey Movius, Patricia Volk, and two anonymous donors.

 

Support for The New York Public Library's Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz Ispahani and Adam Bartos, Jonathan Altman, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.

 

Yaddo Exhibitions Around the Country
In celebration of Yaddo and the presentation at The New York Public Library, libraries and archives nationwide will present fifteen exhibitions in 2008-09, showcasing Yaddo artists for whom they hold papers. The participating institutions are the Grolier Club of New York; the Saratoga Springs Public Library; the Houghton Library at Harvard University; the University of Maryland Libraries; the Green Library at Stanford University; the Hayden Library at Arizona State University; the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin; the Eudora Welty Education and Visitors Center of The Mississippi Department of Archives and History; the Northwestern University Library; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the Pennsylvania State University Libraries; the William Allan Neilson Library at Smith College; the Flannery O’Connor Collection at Georgia College & State University; the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University; and the University of Delaware Library.

Yaddocast

Timed to coincide with the presentation of Yaddo: Making American Culture, Yaddo has launched Yaddocast, a multimedia podcast series that explores the history, culture and artistic achievements of the acclaimed artists’ retreat and its artist guests. Written and maintained by noted podcasters Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards, Yaddocast episodes are available for download at yaddo.org through February 2009, and indefinitely for download through media players such as iTunes or Juice, and through the video-sharing website YouTube. For more information, visit: www.yaddo.org and click on the “Looking for Yaddocast” icon in the top left corner of the home page.

 

About Yaddo

Yaddo is an artists’ community established in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1900 by the financier Spencer Trask and his poet wife, Katrina, to offer creative artists the rare gift of a supportive environment with uninterrupted time to think, experiment and create. Over 200 artists are invited each year for residencies lasting up to two months, and their accomplishments in all fields are a testimony to Yaddo’s long and distinguished history as one of America’s most important cultural institutions. Over the years, Yaddo has welcomed more than 5,500 artists working in one or more of the following media: choreography, film, literature, musical composition, painting, performance art, photography, printmaking, sculpture and video. The guests have included such notable men and women as Milton Avery, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Elizabeth Bishop, Truman Capote, John Cheever, Aaron Copland, Philip Guston, Ulysses Kay, Langston Hughes, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Katherine Anne Porter, Clyfford Still, Virgil Thomson and William Carlos Williams.

 

 

About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. It comprises four research centers—the Humanities and Social Sciences Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the Science, Industry and Business Library—and 87 branch libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items, including materials for the visually impaired. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, beginning genealogy classes and English as a second language. The Library serves some 16 million patrons who come through its doors annually and another 25 million users internationally, who access collections and services through the NYPL website, www.nypl.org.

 

 

Hours and General Information

The exhibition is open during regular Library hours: Monday, Thursday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; Tuesday–Wednesday, 11 a.m.–7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1–5 p.m. Closed federal holidays and Sunday, December 7. For more information on hours, current and upcoming exhibitions, programs, and services at The New York Public Library, call 212.592.7730 or visit the Library’s website at www.nypl.org

 

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Contact: Nadia Riley | 212.592.7177 | Nadia_Riley@nypl.org

Contact: Amy Wentz | Ruder Finn A&CC | 212.715.1551 | wentza@ruderfinn.com

nr: 10.24.08:nypl

 

 

 

 

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