NYU Alumi & Friends Connect

September 15, 2019

Written by: Sally Cummings (SPS '17)

Washington Square Arch with bus driving through

There are two especially good reasons for alumni and friends to visit Bobst Library this fall. One is the wide-ranging exhibition, “The Things We Choose: Favorites” from the Special Collections, opening October 15 and on view through the end of the semester. The other is the show’s location: the new Special Collections Center on the 2nd floor, the Libraries’ first-ever facility designed expressly to support scholarly research into these renowned, unique, multimedia collections.  

Alumni are eligible for a free visit to Bobst Library every year; Friends of Bobst Library have a choice of giving levels that include admission. (See library.nyu.edu for details.) Exhibition visiting hours are 10 to 4, Monday through Friday.  

The Things We Choose, spread across the Center’s three galleries, is the work of eight special collections staff members, each drawing favorite items from the holdings. One of Allison Chomet’s selections for “Pranks and Protest” is a pair of handcuffs from the papers of activist artist Christopher D’Arcangelo, possibly the very ones with which he cuffed himself in the lobby of the Guggenheim Museum in 1975. In “Format and Formation: Media and Social Justice,” Kelly Haydon shares footage from early adopters who used the first portable video cameras to document injustice. In “The People and the Park,” John Zarrillo considers the roles of Washington Square Park over the years: busy roadway (yes, traffic once sped right through it), performance venue, and place for protest, among many others, not to mention NYU’s de facto campus. In “The Life Cycle of a Work,” Nicholas Martin draws from a variety of artists’ papers in the Downtown Collection to explore “the before, during, and after” of an artwork. For “Rethinking Poetry and Art,” Marvin Taylor chose works of experimental poetry—a lesser-known strength of the collections—from Mallarmé to Eugen Gomringer to Jenny Holzer and more.

Mike Koncewicz uses photographs from the Howard Zinn Papers, the Liberation News Service, and other Tamiment Collections to trace a long history of antiwar activism beginning with WWI. For “Singing in Solidarity,” Danielle Marie Nista displays songbooks used as a force for political change. “Commonplace Books and Women’s Writing,” by Charlotte Priddle, exposes work whose authors never expected it to be seen beyond a small circle, but who sensed new freedoms on the horizon. These and other selections, viewed together, express the essential personality of NYU’s Special Collections: radical, disruptive, and ultimately humanizing.

The new Special Collections Center includes a spacious reading room, media and consulting rooms, staff offices, and three galleries designed with an important purpose.  

“The new galleries will help us open up the collections,” says Charlotte Priddle, director of the NYU Special Collections, “and engage the wider community in the stories we are preserving. This exhibition is a celebration of our new Center, the research it will support, and the expanded range of programming we can now present.”

Consider that an invitation to visit.