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Lists by Janice Lowry

It's been a year-and-a-half since John Smith took over as director of the RISD Museum. But it's only now that his vision for the place is becoming reality.

He will soon launch a completely redesigned web site — a sort of digital wing of the museum.

And this week, visitors will take in the first traveling show Smith has brought to town — "Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art."

List by Arturo Rodriguez.
An oddly compelling haul of artists' shopping lists and bulleted concerns (see Janice Lowry's "50 Angry Grievances"), the exhibit was developed during Smith's tenure at the Archives — a repository of letters, diaries, scrap books, and financial records known as the Fort Knox of the art world.

The show, he argues, is a perfect fit for the creative community at RISD and for Rhode Island writ large — an "interesting glimpse into process," he says, "and how artists and designers think about the world and organize the world, from the quotidian to big ideas."

Indeed, this focus on process — on the intellectual work of producing art and the materials used to execute it — is emerging as an early theme for Smith.

The museum's next major show, "Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion" — in the works before Smith arrived, but shaped in important ways by the new director — will celebrate tweed, tartan, and the crafting of artists' identities.

And "Locally Made," a summer show featuring Rhode Island work in the museum's collection, will be accompanied by talks from all kinds of area makers — visual artists, thinkers, farmers, and craftspeople.

But if process is a through-line, it's only that. The first couple of shows at John Smith's RISD Museum are richer fare.

List by Pablo Picasso.
'Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art,' March 15-June 16

It's a small scrap of paper. Not terribly legible. And not, at first glance, all that remarkable: merely a collection of names.

But read the accompanying text and it becomes something much more. The scratch, it turns out, is in Pablo Picasso's hand: a list of European artists he recommended for the first international exhibit of modern art in the United States, the 1913 Armory Show.

On the list — Fernand Lèger, Juan Gris, and Marcel Duchamp, whose "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2" caused an uproar.

Look closely and you'll see that Picasso misspelled Duchamp's name. Just one of the many imperfections that humanize the often superhuman subjects of "Lists."

Indeed, this one-room exhibit sings, in no small part, because it grounds bold-faced names in the ordinary — what could be more ordinary than a list? — without losing sight of their extraordinary talents.

Powerhouse art dealer Leo Castelli's to-do lists remind him to pick up tooth powder at the drug store and consult with "RR" — painter and sculptor Robert Rauschenberg.

Painter Philip Evergood's list of neighborhood services — picture framers, art dealers, a camera shop — is a nifty, glued-and-taped-together collage of business cards and hand-written notes.

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Related: Review: 'European Drawings' at the Portland Museum of Art, RISD's 'Cocktail Culture' offers an intoxicating history of 20th-century fashion, Slideshow: Alexander McQueen's ''Savage Beauty'' exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , History, Museums, Fashion,  More more >
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