For Bruins in New York City, there’s still time to catch a critically acclaimed show primarily composed of work from UCLA Library. “Writing a Chrysanthemum: The Drawings of Rick Barton,” is now on view at the Morgan Library and Museum and will close Sunday, Sept. 11.
The exhibition, which contains 59 pieces owned by UCLA, was recently designated a critic’s pick by the New York Times. Art critic Walker Mimms described the show as a “triumphant rediscovery,” as it marks the museum debut of Rick Barton 30 years after his death in 1992. The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Hyperallergic and other publications also praised the exhibition.
UCLA Library Special Collections serves as the primary caretaker of a large portion of Barton’s work. Henry Evans, who published many of Barton’s prints, donated more than 700 Barton pieces to UCLA in 1971. For years, the collection remained unused due to limited descriptions about the works.
Rachel Federman, the associate curator of modern and contemporary drawings at the Morgan, encountered Barton’s work for the first time in 2016, when a donor gifted a portfolio of his prints to the museum. Thus began Federman’s search for more of Barton’s pieces, which eventually led her to UCLA.
Little is known about Barton. He grew up in Manhattan and relocated to San Francisco in his adult years. The city inspired much of his work, which consists primarily of fluid and fantastical line drawings.
Chela Metzger, the head of preservation and conservation at UCLA Library, helped expose the university’s Barton collection for the first time in 2018 — nearly 50 years after its donation. Hannah Mosier, then the digitization and loan coordinator at the library, rehoused the art and worked with special collections curator Genie Guerard and others to process and describe each work to ensure its accessibility.
“It is a pleasure for special collections folks and preservation and conservation folks to work together to provide for the safety of every library item that goes out on exhibit,” Metzger said. “We are thrilled more people can see these UCLA Library materials nationally and internationally.”
Jet Jacobs, the head of public services, outreach and engagement for library special collections, traveled to New York to represent UCLA Library at the show’s opening. At the event, patrons finally got a chance to view the work that had remained hidden for so long.
“There’s something really appealing about the newness of a so-called unknown artist,” Jacobs said. “What I think it speaks to is our mission in UCLA Library Special Collections in general — our goal is to provide access to primary source material.”
Access is important, Jacobs said, because it allows people to understand their shared history.
“We collect the past because we are trying to build a better future,” Jacobs said. “Special collections materials give you an opportunity to closely investigate people, events, and communities.”
Though the Morgan’s exhibition may be closing soon, there are still ways to connect with Barton’s work. The Barton collection, as well as a multitude of other artist and author works, can be viewed at UCLA Library Special Collections in the Ahmanson Murphy Reading Room. An illustrated catalog of the exhibition can be purchased on the Morgan’s website.