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Meditations in an Emergency

The Joan Mitchell Foundation has extensive holdings of “archival art,” a broad category that includes student work, sketchbooks, trial proofs, drawings, and gifts of artwork from friends.

Frank O’Hara and Joan Mitchell in her rue Frémicourt studio, Paris, ca. 1961. Photographer unknown.

Between 1959 and 1992, Mitchell collaborated on numerous artists’ books with poets, including John Ashbery, Hank Hine, and Nathan Kernan. On one occasion, she created a print to honor her close friend Frank O’Hara, who died unexpectedly in 1966; the print appeared within the pages of In Memory of My Feelings, published by The Museum of Modern Art in 1967. Printed in an edition of 2,500, and edited by Bill Berkson, the book consists of a cloth-case portfolio holding loose signatures with poems by O’Hara paired with lithographs by thirty artists with whom he associated. 

Mitchell and her colleagues were each provided with sheets of acetate, on which the dimensions of the printed page had been outlined in pencil, and “assigned a poem to illustrate as [they] saw fit.” Artists were allowed to draw in black, in sepia, or in both, using any medium that the surface would hold. Their drawings were then translated onto the printed page via offset lithography. This light-based process allowed numerous drawings to be layered, if the artist so desired, to create a single print.

Mitchell made at least twelve drawings for O’Hara’s poem, “Meditations in an Emergency,” including the two versions that were ultimately selected for the publication and layered to create one print. These—one in charcoal, the other in sepia—are now part of MoMA’s collection of Prints and Illustrated Books, along with four other drawings not selected for publication. Two additional drawings, as well as numerous trial proofs of seemingly related prints, are now in the Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives. Whether she considered these drawings studies or alternate versions suitable for printing is unknown. All of these drawings convey a subtlety and depth of feeling absent from the published print.

Verbatim is sponsored by the Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation


Untitled, ca. 1967. Lithograph, 10.5 x 8.375 inches. © Estate of Joan Mitchell. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives


Untitled, 1967. Charcoal on acetate, 14 x 11 inches. © Estate of Joan Mitchell. Joan Mitchell Foundation Archives


Meditations in an Emergency, 1967, Lithograph, 12 x 9 in. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.




The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2016

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