Take a Look Inside The List Center Archive

On the street, yellow taxis and people walking below a billboard in Times Square which reads “WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT!” 

Yoko Ono and John Lennon, WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT, 1969. Billboard installed in Times Square, New York. Photo courtesy of Lenono Photo Archive, New York.

A Note From Our Archivist

During the last two years working as the Archive Project Coordinator at the List Visual Arts Center, I have had the pleasure of organizing and processing the museum’s extensive, 35-year history. Since its opening in 1985, the List has always strived to produce and show exhibitions that helped push the boundaries of art, highlighting intersections of gender, sexuality, and race through the critical insights of contemporary artists. Created in a pre-digital world, the archive comprises all the documents that went into creating an exhibition: press releases, correspondence, postcards, floor plans, checklists, installation photos, shipping and loan agreements, press clippings, audiovisual tapes, and background research. 

Covering over 220 exhibitions, the bulk of the archive spans the years 1985 to 2010 and contains roughly 2,000 individual folders, 180 audiovisual tapes, and 173 different publication titles. It was a long process, but we are happy to finally share what we’ve found with you! In the coming year, The List Center plans to make the archive findings available through the MIT Libraries repository ArchivesSpace, allowing our materials to be searchable alongside other important MIT collections. This is an incredible opportunity to allow primary source documents to be accessed by students, scholars, researchers, teachers, galleries, curators, and others. 

I hope you enjoy reading more about just a few highlights from our expansive archive.

Kaitlyn Fitzgerald
Archive Project Coordinator

Inside the Archive Boxes 

In the collection, we have a wide variety of prints and color slides of installations. Alongside all the paper materials that make up the exhibition archive, these photos help people visualize the exhibition itself and provide context to the other documentation. For many of our exhibitions, we don’t have any installation photos digitized, so we rely on other media to help us understand an exhibition’s history. 

Remember these?

This is a portion of our audiovisual collection which is being digitized for the first time. It comprises roughly 182 audiocassettes, MiniDV and VHS tapes. These range from audiocassettes of artist talks with Marina Abramovic and Ulay in 1986, and a press conference with Yoko Ono in 2001 as well as interviews with Nancy Spero and Leon Golub. We also have VHS tapes of Paul Pfeiffer in Bartos Theater in 2003, the Wasserman Forum in 1993, and a WBZ TV News segment on the 1992 exhibition Corporal Politics. There are also several tapes depicting gallery walkthroughs, discussion panels, lectures, and installation documentation.

A display of various archival cassette tapes from the List Center.

What’s inside every museum archive?

In addition to letters, postcards, and press releases, the archive also contains many press clippings and articles. These articles are from mostly MIT student newspapers like MIT Tech TalkMIT The Tech and local newspapers such as Boston GlobeBoston HeraldBoston Phoenix, as well as other national publications. 

While this clipping isn’t part of any particular exhibition, it shows just one of the many interesting documents and news articles highlighting the List Center and public art at MIT. This is a full-page graphic spread of Calder’s public art piece, La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965), from May 30, 1987 in the Boston Globe.

graphic spread of Calder’s public art piece, La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965)

Letters and Correspondence

Letter in support of Marina & Ulay’s Terminal Garden, 1986

This is a unique letter from Jerome Wiesner to curator Dana Friis-Hansen congratulating the List on receiving funding from the Committee on the Visual Arts to support the production of Terminal Garden, a project created by Marina Abramovic and Ulay during their residency at the List in 1986. Terminal Garden (1986, 22:30 minutes), takes its name from the student slang used in MIT’s Media Lab. In this work, the artists combined images of children at computers with a computer-synthesized voice “speaking” phrases adopted by the artists from American television and magazine advertising and 17th-century Hindu lyrics.

An old letter of correspondence with a red stamp

Notable Publications

19 Projects: Artists-in-Residence at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, 1996

This beautifully designed catalog documents the projects undertaken between 1985 and 1993 as part of the LVAC’s Artist-In-Residence program. Over the course of ten years, nineteen artists came to the List Visual Arts Center for periods of time ranging from two weeks to several months and were invited to make a new work and to push their research and creativity in new directions. Artists include Victor Burgin, Betye Saar, Marina Abramovic, Ann Hamilton, May Sun and Robert Cumming amongst others. The catalog includes brief introductory essays and an in-depth interview with each artist in addition to photo documentation and biographical information.

Textured purple book cover for 19 Projects: Artists-in-Residence at the MIT List Visual Arts Center featuring the LVAC black and white logo in the center.

Leon Golub and Nancy Spero: War and Memory, 1994

Leon Golub and Nancy Spero, who were both artistic and marital partners, created bodies of work that explore themes of power and vulnerability. Golub’s monumental canvases, with their looming figures and lacerated surfaces thrust themselves toward the viewer, while Spero’s more delicate works on paper, episodic and ephemeral, infiltrate the spectator’s awareness more surreptitiously. War and Memory, a joint retrospective, was the first major exhibition to survey their strangely interdependent symmetry. This catalogue includes an overview of their work as well as an essay by curators Katy Kline and Helaine Posner.

Book cover for Leon Golub and Nancy Spero: War and Memory featuring a close up of a painting with yellow, blue, red, and green brushstrokes.

Exhibition Highlights from the Archive 

October 18, 2001 - January 6, 2002

YES YOKO ONO was the artist’s first American retrospective. During the exhibition, she gave a performance and artist talk in MIT’s Bartos Theater. The exhibition was organized by the Japan Society and featured approximately 150 works from the 1960s to 2001. This show had a focus on Ono’s early period, and included objects and installations; language works, such as instruction pieces and scores; film and video; music; and performance art. This is a snapshot from her performance. 

Framed artwork lines the wall behind an installation of an open white ladder and multiple glass vitrines

The Masculine Masquerade: Masculinity and Representation
January 21, 1995 - March 26, 1995

This thematic exhibition, co-curated by Helaine Posner and Andrew Perchuk, explored the social construction of masculinity through the works of eleven artists, including Matthew Barney, Tina Barney, Clegg and Guttman, Graham Durward, Lyle Ashton Harris, Dale Kistemaker, Mary Kelly, Donald Moffett, Keith Piper, Charles Ray, and Michael Yue Tong.

An installation view of The Masculine Masquerade. A snowman shaped sculpture stands in the foreground. 

L.A. Hot and Cool: The Eighties
December 19, 1987 - February 7, 1988

This exhibition presented an amalgamation of painting, sculpture, photography, and environmental installations by twenty-three young artists whose work had been seen rarely, if at all, outside of California during that time. The focus was on the interaction of two distinct traditions and temperaments in LA art: the hot factor characterizes work that is emotional or idiosyncratically personal, passionate, and/or aggressive; while the cool end is more distanced, intellectual, and/or ironic. Oftentimes these polarizations will create a tension within a single work.

Rainbow target on ceiling above three heptogonal shapes with colorful concentric circles hanging above 2 rows of colorful seats.

Life at Home: Kaitlyn's Happenings 

While working from home, I have been using this time to sort through a large number of press binders accumulated for the archive. Reading about all the various exhibitions the List has shown and how the public (and press) reacted, has provided a different perspective and context to the rest of the archive.

To stay active in the community, I have been researching and sharing resources on how to help local businesses, students, families, artists, freelancers and others who have been greatly affected by COVID-19. Here is a link to several Massachusetts funds and response efforts supporting those most impacted.
A bright spot has been that I have recently been accepted to Ryerson University’s Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management Masters Program for the Fall of 2020. In the last month spent at home, I have reflected on my time at the List Visual Arts Center and how lucky I am to have worked at this wonderful museum. The work on this archive has been an integral part of showing where my passions lie and illuminating what I want to pursue in the future. Through this project, I have learned so many invaluable skills from my colleagues and an assortment of MIT faculty and staff I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with. For that, I will be forever grateful.