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The Downtown Collection, Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection Profile

Last March a master's candidate from London spent a week doing research in the Fales Library at New York University. Her thesis was on David Wojnarowicz, the New York artist who died at 37 in 1992. In England 15 years after his death, she had been finding Wojnarowicz a fascinating if somewhat remote figure. In the Fales, she found a sense of immediacy that brought her research alive. "I didn't realize everyone in the library would know who he is," she told a librarian. "His friends, like Dennis Cooper, have actually been here. Dennis was looking in the archive and actually found a letter David had written to him but he never received!" The student said that her research in Fales's Downtown Collection would form the central focus of her thesis.

The Downtown Collection is the largest collection of printed and archival materials related to the Downtown New York art scene anywhere and the only one in an academic library. What better place? Fales is located in NYU's Bobst Library on Washington Square in Greenwich Village, one of the pulse points of downtown Manhattan. Its always-growing Downtown Collection contains 12,000 printed items (monographs, periodical titles, zines, posters, invitations) and works in film, video, and audio. Fales's archival holdings include the papers of Richard Hell, the man for whom the term "punk rock" was coined; Richard Foreman, a leader of avant-garde theater; Dennis Cooper, the poet, novelist, and editor; as well as Jacki Apple, Eric Bogosian, Laura Foreman, Gary Indiana, Lynne Tillman, Martha Wilson, and others. Fales holds the archives of its neighbor, Judson Memorial Church, a major center for avant-garde performance in the 1960s; Fashion Moda, the Bronx outsider gallery that promoted graffiti art; AIR Gallery, the first women's art collective gallery in New York City; Godzilla, the Asian-American art network; the Postal Art Network, one of NYC's preeminent mail art collections; the avant-garde theater company Mabou Mines; and Creative Time, one of the first organizations to foster large-scale public art, among others. The collection is heavily used by scholars and the art community and was the central focus of "The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene 1974–1984," which was named best thematic show of 2006 by the US chapter of the International Association of Art Critics. The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974–1984 (2006) won an Association of American Museums award for design in 2006.

Collection Profile and Overview: Marvin J. Taylor
Illustrations: Nick Johnson

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