Paper Airplanes Land at the Getty

In 1960s Manhattan skyscraper windows could be opened. Bored office workers pelted the city with a steady drizzle of aerodynamically repurposed office supplies. Harry Smith (above), the musicologist-filmmaker-polymath, salvaged the paper airplanes and inscribed them with the address and date. It’s said he collected at least 12 boxes’ worth. In 1984 Smith donated a collection of paper airplanes to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Evidently there were more. The Getty Research Institute has acquired Smith’s archive, and it includes another box of paper airplanes.

Smith, who knew Charlie Parker, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Mapplethorpe, made collecting a conceptual artform. He collected cat’s cradles, Easter eggs, crushed beer cans, and recordings of the wheezing coughs of hoboes. The Getty archive includes Tarot decks, pop-up books, and gourds; plus Smith’s most significant films and audio recordings.

Smith was also a visual artist whose numinous abstractions deserve to be better known. Below is an untitled pastel, c. 1978. The GRI has long had a commitment to Smith’s polymorphous legacy, having organized a Smith symposium in April 2001. For more on the Smith archive, see the Iris blog and the GRI site.

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