The Artist Files


This past weekend I was working on my bibliography and outline for my paper on the “Boston School” for David Deitcher’s class, From Critique to Rehabilitation: Documentary Today.  I collected books around the library and checked all the usual databases and online resources. I was coming up short on literature. Most of what I had found amounted to incestuous pandering from those who existed in or just outside of the frame of Nan Goldin’s camera. Not much critical heft there. I knew my paper would be speculative, but not without reference points!

The last place to look was the artist files. Running A to Z along the perimeter of ICP’s subterranean library is a vast archive of press releases, newspaper and magazine articles, exhibition announcements, and other ephemera from the careers of hundreds of photographers. A quick stroll: David Armstrong, check; Nan Goldin, check; Mark Morrisroe, check; Jack Pierson, check, check, check! Attendance is taken, the whole “Boston School” is present—some a bit lean, others meatier, but all accounted for.

Now: I sit back and read as careers, death, rehab unfold—it’s like a novel or a tabloid, which is fitting since the work of many of those in the group documents the evolution of tragic/beautiful Art Stars. Nan’s been showing with Matthew Marks for 20 years now, but the announcement for her first show with the gallery in 1995 is entombed in the file like a rare specimen. The files are lush with relics of a time and place I will never know—but provide so many fascinations.


My first introduction to the artist files was during an open house I attended for the MFA programs. The photo books packed so tightly, tucked into any available space was a new experience for me. Monographs, catalogues, small books and magazines! I wasn’t even sure where to start. I roamed around and looked for old friends on the shelves.

After a while of dragging my jaw among the stacks, Liz Sales (a member of the library staff and ICP-Bard graduate) put the file for the Photo League of New York in my hand and told me to enjoy. I had recently seen the exhibition at the Jewish  Museum, but in the file were announcements, voting ballots, and letters that I could touch and rifle through.

The artist files are rather inclusive and forever growing—a living record of photographers past and present. Someday I may even be stuffed in among the T’s. The files are excellent resources and slices of life that I return to again and again for research and pleasure.

Not an ICP student? The library, including its extensive collection of books, magazines and artist files, is also available by appointment.


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