Caroline McBride

Artists and the E H McCormick Research Library

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Librarian/Archivist Caroline McBride invites artists to visit the Gallery’s Research Library

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki values our artist communities, and this article introduces you to the resources we have here at the Gallery’s E H McCormick Research Library.  While reference only, the Library is available to visit without appointment: our hours are Monday to Friday 1pm–5pm and we can be found on the Gallery’s Mezzanine level. Our published collections are listed on the Auckland Libraries catalogue and our archives are listed here on the Gallery’s website. Dedicated staff are available to help you with research, finding relevant resources and facilitating reproductions. 

<p>E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki</p>

E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

The Research Library has been a centre for art scholarship for nearly 70 years. Conceived by the Gallery’s first director, Eric Westbrook, it opened as a small reading room in October 1953.  Though modest in size, both staff and public were welcomed to the space from the outset. 

Artists have always been important to us it was a donation from the Auckland Society of Arts that formed the basis of the initial collection, and upon his return from a 1958 tour of US art museums, Colin McCahon, artist and Gallery staff member, added gifts of recently published books on American art.

Read on to learn more about the resources we have to offer – we look forward to welcoming you to the Research Library on your next visit to the Gallery.

Research Library Resources

  • General – Our reading room is a comfortable space with many items for you to browse at your leisure. Our published resources number in the tens of thousands and, as they are usually on-site, can be brought out from the stacks, if not immediately to hand. As well as general art material and a reference section, we have targeted collections, such as those on museology and children’s art books. We have been honoured to be included as a resource by local artists Deborah Smith and John Reynolds as part of their Cloud Workshop initiative for bereaved young people, while artists/academics regularly bring tertiary students into the Research Library for an overview of our resources. Group visits can be arranged by appointment, and we enjoy sharing and discussing the collections, tools and services we have to offer.
  • Book collection – With their rich illustrations and considered texts, books can inform and inspire.  Our monographs on artists are many and sometimes unique in New Zealand.  We have been part of a worldwide art museum library programme since the 1950s that exchanges institutions’ exhibition catalogues. Recently, Los Angeles-based artist, Fiona Connor, used our books on USA artist John McLaughlin for an artist project in the Research Library Display Cabinet. We have a dedicated display space for artist books by contemporary practitioners and each year feature those distributed by Laurel Doody Library Supply. Due to the depth and range of the Library’s collection of New Zealand exhibition catalogues, graphic artists may be interested to explore changes in typography and book design over time.
  • Serials – We have available many journals to keep you informed.  From esoteric art theory titles, such as October, to research-based serials like Museum Management and Curatorship and journals featuring art of a particular region, such as Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art and Auckland-based Art New Zealand, we hope there is something of interest for everybody.
  • Artist files – Like art libraries around the world, we have been producing information files on artists since we began. These contain press clippings and exhibition ephemera, and may also hold images of works, CVs and feature-length articles. With files on around 4000 New Zealand artists, you might like to see whether we have a file on you (see If we do, you’re welcome to come in and check it out – others have found them very useful when putting together their own exhibition histories. Alternatively, you may have material that we don’t and that you could donate for your Library file. With the move to digital resources, we now create online files that can be viewed from a dedicated computer in our reading room, while the hard copy files, with their long history, are celebrated with an artist commission by photographer Jennifer French in issue one of Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture (see pp 163-170 here).
  • Audio-visual collections – We have commercial DVDs that are listed on the Library catalogue and can be viewed in our reading room. Titles are wide-ranging from those of general interest to niche documentaries, such as those on artists Bas Jan Ader and Marina Abramović. In addition, we have available hundreds of film and audio recordings of public events that have taken place over the years at the Gallery. While a Gallery staff member, Martin Awa Clarke Langdon (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Whāwhākia, Ngāti Hikairo, Kāi Tahu) who is an artist and educator, created an edited compilation of previously recorded events featuring invited Māori artists, which acknowledges those artists’ contributions to debate and inspiration over the years. More recently, artist and curator Finn Ferrier/Finn McCahon-Jones included archival footage of a 1980s’ artist talk by Buster Pihama Black in his co-curated exhibition, From the Archive: Colin McCahon in Auckland.

Archive Resources

  • General – As an artist, you may be interested to learn more about archival theory and processes. By arrangement, we welcome the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience in providing information and resources. Artist Richard Maloy spent time in such a way when organising his Student Archive (now in the Chartwell Collection at the Gallery). After the ‘training’ session, he created a novel way for his student volunteers/‘archivists’ to record their opinions on the items they were describing for the inventory that accompanies the artwork. 
<p>Installation view of Ruth Buchanan&rsquo;s 2013 <em>The Curtain</em> artist project</p>

Installation view of Ruth Buchanan’s 2013 The Curtain artist project

  • Individual archives – With over 165 archival collections from which to choose, artists will find a wealth of material with which to engage. You might find archives that are useful for practical purposes or that stimulate thought and creativity. For example, you might wish to include images from one of our photographic archives as reproductions in a publication, such as occurred with portraits by Marti Friedlander in the recent monograph on Gretchen Albrecht by Luke Smythe. Or, you may be inspired to produce artworks influenced by the archive materials in the Library’s collection. For example, Walters Prize-winning artist Ruth Buchanan’s The Curtain is an artist project inspired by an archive dedicated to the curtain designed and woven by German-born Ilse von Randow (1901-1998). Commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery in the 1950s and an impressive 4.5 metres high, it hung over a glass doorway between exhibition spaces (see project images here and Buchanan’s Reading Room article here , pp 169-178). Similarly, Vivienne Worn exhibited paintings in 2018 as part of Enjoy Gallery’s Looking in, breathing out after her close study of Rhona Haszard’s archive in our collection. 

    Archives are considered ‘active’, rather than passive, resources and are enhanced by input from donors. As an artist, you may have an archive you would like us to consider adding to the collection. In this case, and following the Gallery’s acquisition policy and procedure, the donation process may result in a close working relationship as you explain, enumerate and identify items within the archive: a process through which the archive gains in richness and context. This certainly happened when Judy Darragh worked with our archivist on the Teststrip Gallery records, naming and dating exhibitions and artists, as did Claudia Pond Eyley and Juliet Batten with the art archives they donated.
  • Auckland Art Gallery records – Since 1927, when the Gallery began a changing exhibition programme, we have collected documentation, installation views and ephemera for most of the exhibitions that have been staged here. There is much of interest for academics and artists. Berlin-based artist Michael Stevenson created his meticulous facsimiles based on items he unearthed in the 1987 file dedicated to the exhibition of works by visiting German artist Jӧrg Immendorff (1945-2007). Stevenson’s works on paper formed part of Call Me Immendorff, his entry in the inaugural Walters Prize.
<p>Gallery archivist Caroline McBride and artist Judy Darragh working on the Teststrip Archive</p>

Gallery archivist Caroline McBride and artist Judy Darragh working on the Teststrip Archive

The Research Library offers resources and expertise that we invite you to explore and enjoy. We also invite your suggestions on the ways we could improve our services to you. For example, would you like to see an art archive residency or a comprehensive bibliography on archiving and contemporary artists who work with archives? For these or other potential project, activity or handout ideas, please contact us.

Article written by Caroline McBride, Librarian/ Archivist, E H McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki September 2020

I should like to acknowledge Jared Ash’s article on the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum, New York (posted on that institution’s website 10 June 2020), as the inspiration for this article.

© Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and author, 2020