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David Bourdon Correspondence

in The Museum of Modern Art Archives

The Museum of Modern Art Archives
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019-5497
© 2007
The Museum of Modern Art Museum Archives
Finding aid prepared by Jonathan Lill, 2007.

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Bourdon, David
Title: David Bourdon Correspondence
Inclusive Dates: 1952-1997
Quantity: 2.5 Linear Feet
6 5" manuscript boxes
Abstract: Received correspondence, conversation transcripts, and other material from the author and art critic, David Bourdon.


The collection is organized into three series as follows; within each series folders are arranged as received.
Series I: Correspondence 1955-1997
Series II: Interview and Conversation Transcripts 1971-1972
Series III: Ray Johnson Material 1964-1995

Biographical Note

David Bourdon was born October 15, 1934, and earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1961. He immediately entered into a career as a journalist and art critic writing through his career for periodicals such as Artforum International, Art in America, Arts Magazine, and Time, among others. In particular he worked as an assistant editor at Life, 1966-1971, an associate editor at Saturday Review, 1972, and Smithsonian, 1972-1974, a senior editor at Geo, 1981-1983, and a senior features editor at Vogue, 1983-1986. Additionally, he served as art critic for The Village Voice, 1964-1966 and 1974-1977. Bourdon wrote numerous books on modern artists including works on Alexander Calder, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Carl Andre, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Andy Warhol. David Bourdon died in New York on March 27, 1998.

Scope and Content Note

Throughout his adult life, Bourdon was intimately involved with the art world as a writer, critic, collector, and connoisseur, and he developed close relationships with many of his subjects. This collection of his correspondence and interview transcripts attest both to his professional activities and his personal relationships.

The earliest material here dates from 1955, well before Bourdon began his professional career, and consists of letters from numerous close friends. Much of the correspondence in Series I is of strictly personal nature, including numerous Christmas and holiday cards from friends and relatives. There is personal correspondence here from some of Bourdon's more significant relationships, including the art critics Suzi Gablik and Gregory Battcock. And one folder (I.12) contains numerous letters and postcards from noted artists. Many, such as Jeanne Claude and Christo and Carl Andre, were frequent subjects of Bourdon's writing.

The transcripts of conversations and interviews in Series II compose a distinct part of Bourdon's activity. Evidence suggests that he regularly recorded his phone conversations, then later transcribed them for research or diaristic purposes. While some of the content is strictly conversational in nature, much also involves the activities of the art world and Andy Warhol in particular, as Warhol is the most frequent caller recorded here. There is no available information suggesting that the callers were informed of the recordings.

Finally, one of Bourdon's longest lasting correspondents among the many artists he knew was Ray Johnson. Johnson had studied at Black Mountain College but gained his greatest prominence only in the late 1960s and after as one of the main progenitors of Correspondence or Mail Art. Bourdon was recipient of a great number of these pieces as well as regular written letters. The folders of Series III contain numerous examples of Johnson's output as well as a drawing by Johnson.

All correspondence noted below is addressed to Bourdon. Only a few examples of Bourdon's outgoing correspondence is present. That Bourdon kept envelopes for most of his correspondence greatly aids the substantiation of date and correspondent. The material was received as a single series of folders overlapping in chronology, without any clear organization, and absent significant titles or labels. The order of folders has been only minimally rearranged to form the three series.


Access Restrictions

The records are open for research and contain no restricted materials.

Ownership and Literary Rights

The David Bourdon Papers are the physical property of The Museum of Modern Art. Literary rights, including copyright belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Rights to work produced during the normal course of Museum business resides with The Museum of Modern Art. For further information, and to obtain permission to publish or reproduce, contact the Museum Archivist.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in DADABASE, the library catalog of The Museum of Modern Art. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.
Persons and Organizations:
Art critics -- United States -- History -- 20th century -- Biography -- Sources.
Art, American -- 20th century -- Sources.
Art, Modern -- 20th century -- Sources.
Bourdon, David
Bourdon, David -- Archives
Johnson, Ray, 1927-1995 -- Archives
Warhol, Andy, 1928-1987 -- Archives.
Art critics -- United States -- History -- 20th century -- Biography -- Sources.
Art, American -- 20th century -- Sources.
Art, Modern -- 20th century -- Sources.
Bourdon, David -- Archives
Johnson, Ray, 1927-1995 -- Archives
Warhol, Andy, 1928-1987 -- Archives.
Document Types:
Personal papers

Related Collections at MoMA and Elsewhere

The Museum Library contains numerous books authored by Bourdon as well as material about the author in the library's pamphlet files. The library also contains extensive documentation of the work of Ray Johnson.

The David Bourdon Papers, at The Archives of American Art (AAA), contains records of Bourdon's research, writing, and other professional activities.

Administrative Information


The David Bourdon Correspondence was given to the Museum Archives in 1999 by Les Levine, executor of David Bourdon's estate.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Long version: David Bourdon Papers, [series.folder]. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York.

Short version: Bourdon, [series.folder]. MoMA Archives, NY.

Processing and Condition Information

The processing of the David Bourdon Papers was funded by a generous grant from The Henry Luce Foundation.

Material in this collection is of relatively recent origin and in good stable condition. Materials have been rehoused and isolated as appropriate.

Additional Descriptive Data

Explanation of Abbreviations

ALS is an Autographed Letter Signed.
TLS is a Typed Letter Signed.
TL stands for Typed Letter.
MoMA is The Museum of Modern Art.
n.d. stands for no date.
re: stands for regarding.

Container List

Series I: Correspondence 1952-1997

Folder Title Date
I.1 Correspondence

Includes variety of friendly letters, holiday cards, thank you notes, some business correspondence, programs of events, invitations, and postcards from such individuals as Marcel Fleiss, Marta Minujin, Rosemary Kent, Holly Solomon, Elaine H. Varian, Alice M. Denney, Dominik Keller, Edmund White and others. Numerous early letters, in particular from James Fitzsimmons.

I.2 "Art File: Dale Chihuly?"

1 ALS Dale Chihuly [re: prints and drawings].

I.3 Early Correspondence

Numerous early letters from apparent close friends Joseph W. Michels (most detailing his international excursion of 1955), Judith Bradford, Cara Cook, Peter Sekora, Carl Willers, and James Vincent, as well as the editor James Kraft and other editors and publishers.

I.4 Early Correspondence

Early correspondence similar to previous folder; also includes 1 TLS Jules Olitski (5/24/1995) and various older photographs, presumably of Bourdon.

I.5 Arts Correspondence

Includes letters from John Quinn, from Paris, mentioning Daniel Spoerri, Anne d'Harnoncourt, and Teeny Duchamp (with whom Quinn was staying); 1 telegram Jasper Johns (12/9/1968) [re: invitation to dinner for Suzi Gablik and John Russell]; 1 ALS Robert Morris (10/30/1964); 1 TLS Teeny Duchamp (5/27/1974); 1 TLS Al Capp (4/30/1975); letters from Suzi Gablik; otherwise thorough mixture of professional and familial correspondence as in previous folders.

I.6 Correspondence

Includes correspondence from Gablik, Walter Darby Bannard, Quinn, numerous postcards; 1 ACS Eric Fischl (1990); mixture of letters from family and friends.

I.7 Correspondence

Letters from family and friends.

I.8 Early Correspondence

Numerous letters from Douglas Woodfill and Anne Deupree, but most correspondence from Lance Bradshaw.

I.9 Correspondence

Includes postcards from Nam June Paik, Gordon Matta-Clark, Joyce Kozloff; issue of Soho Con/fidential, no. 5 (December 18, 1976); otherwise mix of personal and business correspondence.

I.10 Correspondence

Mix of business and personal correspondence; includes 1 ALS Robert Morris (4/9/1965).

I.11 Nam June Paik and Vito Acconci Correspondence

Numerous postcards (one 9.5x10.5") and one New Year's card/poster from Nam June Paik (1979); 1 ALS Nam June Paik (9/22/1978?) written in crayon on ten playing cards; typescript of performance piece, Private Piece for David Bourdon (Nov. 7, 1969: city series), by Vito Acconci.

I.12 Artists' Correspondence

Includes: 9 ACS postcards Jeanne-Claude and Christo
1 ACS Nancy Graves
1 ACS Gilbert & George, two leaflets of poems, "Artists's Culture" and "Manliness," dated 5/19/1971 and 5/15/1971 respectively, dedicated to Bourdon and signed by Gilbert & George
10 ACS Carl Andre
1 ALS Wayne Thiebaud (3/22/1981)
1 ACS Irving Penn (n.d.)
1 ALS Mark di Suvero, reply written on letter Bourdon sent to the artist (12/15/1961)
1 ACS Alex Katz (3/3/1986)
2 TLS Philip Pearlstein (1997)
1 ALS Robert M. Watts (9/29/1964) includes stamp art and ephemeral art items
1 ACS Lucas Samaras (3/19/1981)
Invitation (designed by George Maciunas) to performance by Yoko Ono and John Lennon, 1 TLS (form letter) Yoko Ono Lennon (9/28/1971)
1 TL Joseph Cornell (n.d.)
1 TLS John Baldessari (4/29/1975)
1 TLS (3 pages) Vito Acconci (8/9/1974) [response to Bourdon manuscript, included, with Acconci's edits]
1 ALS Scott Burton (12/17/1975)
1 TLS Claes Oldenburg (1/20/1969) with Oldenburg's press pass from the 1969 Democratic Convention in Chicago
1 TLS George Segal (10/8/1990)
1 ALS Stephen Spender (4/13/1983)
1 ALS (on 1 page and two postcards) Ad Reinhardt (5/24/1967)
6 ALS and 2 TLS Walter de Maria (1968-1969)
8 ALS and 4 TLS Ed Ruscha (1971-1972).

I.13 Correspondence

Mixture of personal and professional correspondence, includes 2 ACS Carl Andre (4/20/1969? and n.d.); 1 ACS Robert Warner (11/2/1992) with hand-printed text on newsprint.

I.14 Photograph

Signed publicity still of "Robert Delford Brown & Harpo the Cat" with an envelope marked "The First National Church of the Exquisite Panic, Inc. at the Great Building Crack-Up," New York.

I.15 Correspondence

Small quantity of personal and professional correspondence; includes invitation to a celebratory lunch, "Sandy's Air Party," to mark Alexander Calder's collaboration with Braniff Airlines to decorate an airplane, 5/31/1975. Invitation lithographed with drawing of flying man by Calder.

I.16 Photographs

35mm negatives, contact sheets and some prints of images of the ground design of an outdoor plaza and installation of Calder sculpture; also includes images (by Bourdon) of Calder painting a passenger airline.

I.17 Correspondence

Small quantity of personal and business correspondence; includes examples of stationery from the office of Leontyne Price and 1 TLS Lillian Gish (10/6/1976); apparently Bourdon was seeking examples of stationery from various notable individuals.
1 ALS John Lennon and Yoko Ono (n.d.), on Apple memorandum stationery, signed "Fred and Ada Gurkin," but with sketch by Lennon at bottom and small self-portrait signature of Lennon and Ono.

I.18 Correspondence

Various correspondence includes 1 ACS Allan Kaprow (11/27/1967); letters from Nancy Graves and her husband Avery Smith; 1 photograph by Bourdon of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at press conference (10/8/1971); 1 TLS Marta Minujin (8/5/1976) including documentation of the artist's installations

I.19 Correspondence

Personal and business correspondence; includes 1 TLS Jules Olitski (9/12/1990).

I.20 Correspondence

Mixed correspondence, includes 1 TLS Donald Baechler (7/10/1990).

I.21 Correspondence

Includes handmade Christmas card from Larry Poons and Thalia Christo (1960s) and various items from John Willenbecher.

I.22 Correspondence

Includes photocopied pieces by Ray Johnson.

I.23 Correspondence 1968-1997
I.24 Gregory Battcock Materials

Includes correspondence with Gregory Battcock and various materials relating to him and his death.

I.25 Photographs

Photographs of Gregory Battcock including some taken by Harry Shunk. Shunk believed these were the last images of Battcock before his death in 1981.

I.26 Correspondence

One TLS from Meredith Harper of Richard L. Feigen & Co.

I.27 High School Yearbook

1952 edition of the El Camino, Bourdon's senior year yearbook from North Hollywood High School, CA.


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Series II: Interview and Conversation Transcripts 1971-1972

The contents of this series are original typescript transcripts of recorded phone conversations with Bourdon's friends and acquaintances, most notably Andy Warhol. The transcripts were originally stapled together in various sized bundles with some bundles comprising separate interviews and phone calls over numerous days.

Folder Title Date
II.1 Conversation Transcripts

Titles on the first page of each bundle are as follows:
"Nov. 12, 1971 call with Andy" (5 pages)
"Oct. 1, 1971 call with Jill Johnston" (7 pages)
"Oct. 8, 1971 call with Andy..." (8 pages)
"Oct. 18, 1971 call with Andy" (3 pages)
"Nov. 1, 1971 call with Andy" (4 pages)
"Oct. 25, 1971 call with Les" (2 pages).

II.2 Conversation Transcripts - "Andy Tapes"

Transcripts of phone conversations with Andy Warhol and others on June 4th (41 pages) June 5th (11 pages) June 7th (4 pages) June 8th (11 pages) and undated (8 pages).

II.3 Conversation Transcripts

122 pages in variously sized bundles of transcripts and summaries of phone conversations with Andy Warhol, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Gregory Battcock, Ray Johnson, Ed Ruscha, and others, between August 1971 and May 1972. Some pages are tagged with adhesive memos.


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Series III: Ray Johnson Material 1964-1995

Folder Title Date
III.1 Mailings

Letters and materials from Ray Johnson.

III.2 Mailings and Photographs

Materials and letters from Ray Johnson, including photographs of the artist.

III.3 Photographs

Three images of the artist.

III.4 Drawing

Original drawing by Johnson, in crayon and ink on onion skin paper, with the stamped inscription "Untitled Lithograph by Ray Johnson."

III.5 Mailings

Numerous and varied artworks and mailings by Johnson including collages, photocopied works, loose clippings of photographs, and correspondence. Folder also includes bundle of photographs of Gregory Battcock, most from 1970-1971.

III.6 Mailings

Large quantity of mailings and photocopied work by the artist, articles and other materials. Includes Bourdon's letter to Suzi Gablik, 1/16/1995, informing her of Johnson's death.

III.7 Mailings

Correspondence, mailings, drawings, collages, and photocopied works by the artist.

III.8 Mailings

Works and correspondence from the artist.

III.9 Mailings

Works and correspondence from the artist.


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Box and Folder List

Box Series Folder
1 I 1-6
2 I 7-12
3 I 13-20
4 I 21-27
5 II 1-3
III 1-6
6 III 7-9

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