Scavenging American Art & Technology Archives – Esmee Schoutens

Written by Esmee Schoutensesmeeschoutens

This fall I received Early Career Fund from CLUE+ to conduct archival research in the United States for five weeks. I am now a second-year research master student of the Critical Studies in Art and Culture track. I mostly focus on modern and contemporary art, specifically on art/technology collaborations and artistic responses to the rise of digital technology starting in the 1960s. During the first year of my masters I have started to research art and technology collaborations, such as the exhibition Software at the Jewish Museum in 1970 and the Art & Technology program (A&T) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) between 1967 and 1971.

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Fig. 1 Archive of the Jewish Museum, New York

On September 1st I took off to New York to visit the archives of the Jewish Museum to look into the remaining documents of the Software exhibition. Unfortunately, only a small box with some documents (mostly payments and project descriptions) now remains, stored in the smallest archive room I have ever encountered (fig. 1). I did find some reviews of the exhibition I had not come across before, as well as an essay on the role of technology for artists written by one of the assistant curators, Joanne Lupton.

I then went to the archives of LACMA in Los Angeles, a library and archive comparable in size to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. I spent a week going through six boxes of artists’ files from the A&T program and several boxes of photos – from the installation of the works to the exhibition opening. The correspondence with the participating artists and internal memos have clarified many questions I had, and they have given specific insight into the relationship between the museum, the participating artists, and the participating corporations (ranging from IBM to Rand Corporation to Kaiser Steel). I also went to the Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles to go through the archives of the curator of the A&T program, Maurice Tuchman (fig. 2). When I came to the GRI, I also found out they hold quite some archives of people that were in some way related to the program, such as Hal Glicksman, Betty Asher, and the organization Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). The GRI is a very well-organized institution with great facilities, such as a private garden for academic researchers (fig. 3).

Before I returned to Amsterdam, I also visited Prof. Edward Shanken, specialist in Digital Art and New Media, at the University of California Santa Cruz to talk about my research. It was great to discuss some of my questions with him – particularly the writings of Jack Burnham – and brainstorm about the directions my research could take. One of the aspects I enjoyed most of this research trip has been to get in touch with other academics, which really made me feel part of the global academic community. I am in touch now with several professors from American universities who are researching similar topics and who have given me great advice. I also met some fellow researchers at the archives I have visited and it has been very helpful to discuss both my findings and struggles with them.

Ever since I got back to Amsterdam, I have been working on processing the archival material I have found and making decisions on the case studies I will use in my final paper. Once I have finished writing the paper, I will approach several academic journals to publish my research and look for conferences to present my results. I will also present my findings to the VU community at a lunch lecture (date to be confirmed).

This research has been made possible by the generous support of the CLUE+ Early Career Research Fund. A special thanks to Prof. Dr. Katja Kwastek, who has assisted me throughout the research process, and the library staff at the Jewish Museum, LACMA, and the GRI.


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