A recent question at the reference desk was how to find more about the sculpture of the large button threaded with a needle that stands in the Garment District of New York City at 7th Avenue and 39th Street. This query reminded me of a previous blog post I had written on locating information on a specific painting. The process for looking for information on a sculpture or sculptor is similar, but I thought I would highlight some of the search strategies and resources for sculpture that are different from painting.
We were looking a modern (mid-late 20th century) public sculpture in New York City, but we didn’t have any further information. Since it is a fairly iconic structure in the Garment District, it seemed diligent to try a Google search to see if we could figure out the basics. At fashioncenter.com we found that the button and needle are actually part of the Fashion Center Information Kiosk designed by Pentagram Architectural Services in 1996 and inspired by Claes Oldenburg’s sculptures.
Recent works and public works are often covered by journal and newspaper articles sooner than monographs, so we checked the New York Times and Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals in NYPL’s Articles and Databases and found these (we used keyword searches for the terms “Pentagram Garment District” and “Fashion Center information kiosk”):
- "Postings: A Kiosk for the Fashion Center; Who's Got the Button?" New York Times: 9.1. National Newspapers Premier. Feb 04 1996. - The stainless steel needle is 31-feet long with a 2-foot eye threaded threw a 14-foot button.
- Snaije, Olivia. "The Alchemy Of Design [Hugh Cosman]." Metropolis 17.9 (1998): 43. - Names Hugh Cosman as the fabricator of the button and needle.
We searched the library's catalog for more information on the Garment District and public sculpture in New York and found these potentially interesting sources:
- Durante, Dianne. Outdoor Monuments in Manhattan. New York: New York University Press, 2007.
- Gayle, Margot. The Art Commission and The Municipal Society Guide to Manhattan's Outdoor Sculpture. New York: Prentice Hall, 1988.
- Keech, Pamela. The Curious Shopper's Guide to New York City: Inside Manhattan's Shopping Districts. New York: Little Bookroom, 2006.
- Identity Map Company. The Fashion District Map: [Manhattan, New York, N.Y.] . New York: Fashion Center Business Improvement District, 2003.
- Masello, David. New York's 50 Best Art in Public Places. New York: City & Co., 1999.
- Phifer, Jean. Public Art New York. New York, WW Norton, 2009.
Next, taking an interest in the oversized everyday object used as sculpture, we wanted to know more about the work of inspiration source, Claes Oldenburg. A catalog search led us to these titles and more:
Claes Oldenburg: an Anthology. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1995.
And, since we enjoyed the giant-sized button and needle so much, we wanted to know where to find the similar aesthetic of Oldenburg’s sculpture in New York City. These resources gave us a start:
- Geldzahler, Henry. New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970. Dutton, [c1969]
- Robinette, Margaret A. Outdoor Sculpture: Object and Environment. Whitney Library of Design, [c1976]
The whimsy and iconography of the large button and needle sculpture adorning the Fashion Center Information Kiosk was a wonderful entrance to two different avenues of research. First, we learned about the recent effort to make a dynamic statement in highlighting a historic district of Manhattan. Second, we discovered the works of a great 20th century sculptor who inspired not only a work of sculpture/architecture but fellow artists such as Jeff Koons.
What did we learn? Finding information on a specific sculpture is not always easy to do, but there are a few things to keep in mind that will help you in a search. Here are some avenues for consideration when searching for information on a work of art:
- Where is it located? If it is in a public collection, check their website for collections information. Check the library's catalog for exhibitions catalogs and/or collections catalogs that may contain the work.
- Who was the sculptor? If it is an established artist, one who has been exhibited and has had success in his career, check the catalog for a book on the artist, or books the artist is included in. Is there a biography, or have the artist's letters been published? If the artist is not so famous, check for auction records on the artist's work. Often work by lesser known artists is sold in auctions that list background information on the works and artist for the sale. For monumental and public sculpture, check for books with those keywords and the city or place of your query (Keyword Search: New York City public sculpture).
- Biographical dictionaries, indexes, and encyclopedias often have short entries on otherwise hard to find artist that can lead you to more information. Try Who Was Who in American Art, Sculpture Index, and Benezit's Dictionary of Artists to begin with. Also, check our databases for journal articles that may have been written about the artist or an exhibition the artist was in. This is especially good for contemporary artists who may not be published in a monograph or catalog yet. To verify the spelling or variations of spelling of an artist’s name try the Union List of Artist’s Names published by the Getty Research Library.
Please visit the Mid-Manhattan Art and Picture Collections and the Art and Architecture Collection in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building for help from a librarian with your art work search.