See the "Little Black Books" of Famous Artists

Archives of American Art // Smithsonian Institution
Archives of American Art // Smithsonian Institution / Archives of American Art // Smithsonian Institution

Physical address books are remnants of the pre-computer age that are probably not long for this world, so it only makes sense that they’ve become the subject of an archival exhibit.

Little Black Books” is currently on display in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in Washington, DC. It will run until November 1, and features the address books of artists like Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Kathleen Blackshear, Joseph Cornell, and Ad Reinhardt.

The books offer revealing details about the lives of the artists and their social networks well before the world talked incessantly about social networks. They’re dog-eared, scribbled-upon, and contain both romantic and business affairs, as well as the names of notables and nobodies. Pollock and Krasner's shared book contains everyone from Mark Rothko to Pollock's homeopathic doctor.

As revealing as the details are, the way they're organized is itself a divulgence. Textile designer and weaver Dorothy Liebes, for example, includes categorizations like “Philadelphia” and “extra girls.” Whether we’re able to distill any meaning from such things is not always the point, because the oddities are a discovery in themselves.

It all might feel a bit intrusive for those observing the deeply personal artifacts, but that’s sort of the point, says curator Mary Savig. 

She told NPR, "It is very nosey and that's why I really enjoy doing it.”