Libraries’ acquisition adds to holdings on Bay Area art scene

Artwork copyright Vito Acconci. Image copyright Stanford University Libraries.
House of Cars by Vito Acconci, 1983. Photo by John Grau. Artwork copyright Vito Acconci. Image copyright Stanford University Libraries.

The 1970s launched a new era for artists, musicians and writers, as they began to envision an alternative to the commercial gallery system. Not-for-profit exhibition spaces popped up in major cities, run by fellow artists and featuring works that were experimental, sometimes groundbreaking.

One of the organizations at the forefront of this change was San Francisco’s New Langton Arts, whose archive has just arrived at the Stanford University Libraries. The archive offers thousands of photos, audio recordings, videos and other materials that document the growth of the city’s experimental art scene. Founded in 1975, New Langton featured performance art, video screenings and installations, literary readings, lectures and new and electronic music performances in its programming.

The archive strengthens the libraries’ holdings relating to Bay Area cultural life and finds a natural home alongside the papers of La Mamelle/Art Com, Canyon Cinema, the artist LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON and the writer STEWART BRAND, among others.

The collection is rich with exhibition photos featuring work by premier national and international artists, such as OLAFFUR ELIASSON, VITO ACCONCI, TONY LABAT and ADRIAN PIPER.  Hundreds of audiotapes preserve musical compositions and recitals by JON APPLETON, DAVID BEHRMAN, PETER GARLAND and other experimental music luminaries.  Additional audiotapes, videotapes and photographs document literary performances by KATHY ACKER, ROBERT GRENIER, DAVID BROMIGE and many other poets, authors and literary theorists.  The archive also includes three decades of New Langton’s organizational history.

Stanford art and art history Professor PAUL DEMARINIS, a former member of New Langton’s curatorial board and its board of directors during its early years, performed and exhibited under its auspices at the beginning of his career.  “New Langton Arts presented work by established artists working outside their expected fields, emerging artists who have since become famous, as well as a host of artists who made major contributions to the cultural development of the Bay Area at a time when it was emerging as a major economic center,” he said.  “Its maturation and ultimate demise closely track the rise and fall of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the San Francisco dot-com real estate market.”

He predicted that “the Langton archives will serve future scholars who seek to piece together a picture of the artistic scene in the United States at a time of intense change.”

The New Langton archives will be available after the documents have been processed through the libraries’ Department of Special Collections.

— BY CYNTHIA HAVEN