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Great minds make to-do lists

The New York Public Library has been surprising visitors lately with exhibitions of items from its permanent collection that no one knew it had or, in some cases, knew were even in existence, like the diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck and Bob Dylan, among several others.  Or a whole bunch of drawings, forty to be exact, by Jim Dine. Both the diaries and the drawings are currently being exhibited, and are joined today by the best collection of lists I’ve ever seen, and as an avid collector of ephemera I’ve seen my share. The collection is not actually owned by the NYPL ; it’s on loan from The Smithsonian, but at least now it’s getting more visibility.

Of the eighty lists on display, some are typed, some hand-written, some drawn or even painted, but all of them come from some pretty significant sources, like Picasso, Calder, de Koonig, Eero Saarinen and Lee Krasner. There are those of the quotidian variety, those that are historically significant and others are of a more personal nature, like Saarinen’s very touching list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, then New York Times art critic and Saarinen’s soon-to-be wife (above). Also included are de Koonig’s notes for a joint tax return, Joseph Cornell’s inventory of items purchased at the 1957 Antiques Fair at Madison Square Garden (i.e. “fancy pink box – very Victorian,” “misc. marbles,” and “butter mouldes – swan design, hand carved,” which are marked “sell”) and Franz Kline’s scrawled, bare-bones grocery list for “corn flakes, milk, oranges, banana, cokes, bread, eggs, bacon, toilet paper, V8 juice.”

Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art” (whew) runs from June 3 – October 2, 2011.