As a summer intern at the Frick Art Reference Library, I researched several New York auction catalogs in preparation for the New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) online exhibition Gilding the Gilded Age: Interior Decoration Tastes & Trends in New York City. I found myself drawn to the catalogs with annotations of prices and buyers. This prompted me to reflect on society’s fascination with the money others pay for their belongings.
While conducting research as an intern at the Frick Art Reference Library, I was reminded that the New York auction house often acts as a stage for dramatic, headline-generating sales. On the evening of April 21, 1915, Gilded Age magnates and their art advisors assembled at the Plaza Hotel for just such a sale (American Art Association). On the block was the masterpiece-studded Blakeslee Collection, available nearly in its entirety to the public as a result of the scandalous suicide of the collector and salesman, Theron J. Blakeslee.
The second phase of a two-year collaborative project to document the New York City art scene at the turn of the 20th century by digitizing exhibition catalogs held at the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives has been completed. The materials are now available to researchers worldwide through Arcade.
The recently completed NYARC digitization project “Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century,” was the product of a collaboration between the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archive. Like many collaborative digital projects, “Documenting Gilded Age” exposed both the challenges and unique opportunities that come from transforming physical items – in this case rare, ephemeral exhibition catalogs – into digital form.
The art exhibitions of small galleries, society clubs, and associations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries chronicle the emergence of New York City as a metropolis destined to be a global center for the international art market. Ephemeral exhibition catalogs, checklists, and pamphlets from this period document artistic movements, artists of the period, economic markets, and social and cultural history. The materials from eleven galleries, clubs, and associations that have played a pivotal role in the history of art and New York City have been digitized from the collections of the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives and are now available to researchers worldwide. Spanning the period from 1875 to 1922, this initial collection serves as the foundation for a more comprehensive project to document the New York City art scene at the turn of the 20th century.
In the Gilded Age, exhibitions at small galleries, society clubs, and associations played a significant role in the art world and are avidly studied by art historians now.