Artists Video

‘The Curious Types’: Charles Green Shaw’s ‘Bohemian Dinner’ Paints a Vivid Picture of a New York All-Nighter


In a partnership with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, ARTnews is sharing a short film directed by Wes Miller from a series that the AAA produced about its collections.

The artist and author Charles Green Shaw, who is best known for his abstract paintings and contributions to publications like the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, was also known to be quite good at parties. In the early 20th century, Shaw composed a poem, “The Bohemian Dinner,” in which he enumerates the varied sights and sensations of a night out in New York’s Washington Square.

In his piece, Shaw writes of “the semi darkness,” “the flowing tie,” “the grated cheese,” and many more thrills. This film pairs lines from his poem with photographs culled from more than 40 collections within the Archives of American Art of artists drinking, eating, and mingling.

Images in the slide show, set to a jaunty tune, feature John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Andy Warhol huddled close together, Louise Nevelson with cigarette in hand, Salvador Dalí seated at a small table, and Gertrude Abercrombie kissing Karl Priebe. Other celebrated artists, like Georges Braque, David Hockney, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jay DeFeo, also make appearances.

Notable musicians crop up too—Bob Marley (who is pictured with artist John Outterbridge) and Carl Ruggles; there’s also novelist Jack Kerouac. Shaw’s poetic account and these accompanying photos illustrate the boundless vibrancy of storied evenings on the town among art luminaries.

Here’s more from the AAA on its work, and the film project:

The Archives of American Art is a living collection, evolving with the changing world of art and artists and continually growing with new acquisitions each year. What is new is always exciting, but scholars, artists, and others continue to revisit material that is decades or even centuries old, bringing new interpretations, new framing, and new ideas to letters, diaries, oral histories, and the wide range of other materials that the Archives preserves.

In 2017, the Archives began a collaboration with filmmaker Wes Miller to produce a series of short films on important documents in its collections. The oral history, letters, and poem at the core of each film provide a glimpse of the range of historical evidence the Archives of American Art safeguards and brings into vivid detail artists’ inspirations, motivations, and the art communities in which they lived. These personal accounts preserve moments in time in a way no textbook ever can, adding richness and depth to our understanding of the American art world.

© 2019 ARTnews Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARTnews® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.