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The New York Public Library's Picture Collection Treasures on Display in New 100th Anniversary Exhibition

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Materials that have inspired artists, costume designers, and curiosity on display

November 10, 2015 -- Long before Pinterest and Google Images, The Picture Collection at The New York Public Library has been an unparalleled and essential resource for artists and designers, students and scholars, looking for images of almost everything. Boasting close to 1.5 million images, the collection was established in 1915, and today, it comprises more than 1,500 linear feet of physical materials—surpassing even the height of the Empire State Building. Images—which include historic postcards, magazine clippings, travel posters, and more—are organized according to roughly 12,000 alphabetical subject headings, from “Abacus” to “Zoology,” with many more thousands of subheadings. Whether you are looking for pictures of people and objects seen from behind (“Rear Views”) or cats wearing clothes (“Animals as Humans”), the Picture Collection has you covered. To celebrate the collection's 100th anniversary and all that it has inspired, The New York Public Library will present 100 Years of the Picture Collection: From Abacus to Zoology, a new free exhibition on display in The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building's Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery from November 14, 2015 through May 15, 2016. 

Since 1915, the Picture Collection has been a source for some of the world's most creative artists in a variety of fields. Tony Award-winning costume designer Susan Hilferty (Wicked), graphic novelist Art Spiegelman (Maus), and illustrators Ed Sorel and Paul O. Zelinsky will all have works on display in the exhibition that showcase how the Picture Collection has inspired their works. Other prominent users over the collection's history include artists Andy Warhol, Taryn Simon, Joseph Cornell, and Diego Rivera; photographers Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange; fashion designer Irene Lentz; and Orange is the New Black costume designer Jenn Rogien.

"New York City is arguably the largest producer and consumer of the arts in the world, and the Picture Collection has been an integral part of that production and consumption for over a century," said Billy Parrott, curator of the exhibition and NYPL's Managing Librarian, Art and Picture Collections. "Our materials have inspired and informed everything from Broadway plays to board room discussions, from fashion on the streets to art hanging in museums around the world. The Picture Collection remains a vital resource because the desire and need for visual experience remains."

Abacus to Zoology features more than 100 on display including works by some of the Picture Collection's most devoted users, who came to the Library in search of reference images and inspiration. The exhibition details the history and use of the Collection by showing materials from the archives alongside work from artists and designers who have used the Collection. The exhibition also explores the breadth and depth of the Picture Collection's holdings, which include more than 300 different categories for New York City alone, and how these images have documented cultural trends, geographical locations, fashion, stardom, and more. 

Highlights of Abacus to Zoology include:

  • Materials documenting Andy Warhol's relationship to the Collection
  • Susan Hilferty's costume sketches and "Shiz" costume for Madame Morrible from Wicked
  • Art Spiegelman's illustrated tribute to the Picture Collection that originally ran in The New Yorker in 1995
  • Correspondence and archival materials from a range of artists, including Dorothea Lange and Rockwell Kent, detailing their use of the Collection
  • Vintage posters and sports related images

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

Press Contact:
Nora Lyons | noralyons [@] nypl [dot] org

About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.