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Kim Levin: Itineraries

Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
October 17-November 22, 2003

Curated by John Salvest

A few years ago art critic Kim Levin invited me to tag along as she made her rounds of New York City galleries and art museums gathering information and forming opinions for the Choices section of The Village Voice. For about twenty years Ms. Levin has been a fixture of the New York art scene, steadfastly patrolling its ever-changing neighborhoods and spaces with the immediate, deadline driven task of compiling a weekly list of current exhibitions.

As we settle into a cab to head downtown, Kim says, "Oh, did I forget my list" and starts to rummage through her bag."There it is," she says, visibly relieved. I catch a glimpse of an exhibition announcement with a hand-written list on the back. Are we going grocery shopping too, I wonder, until I realize that her instructions to the cabbie are directly related to the information on the back of the card.

The lists, it turns out, are a critical and necessary part of Ms. Levin's weekly ritual. With hundreds of invitations and press releases pouring into her mailbox each week and new exhibitions opening practically every weekend, how else can she keep things straight? The neat itineraries, arranged neighborhood by neighborhood and street by street, are portable plans of action that evolve over time. As she views the shows, color-coded scratches, stars, asterisks and other notations are added. Back at her desk, the now colorful and densely marked cards, frequently augmented by more extensive notes and drawings done on whatever paper was available during each circuit, provide the information she needs to make her famously succinct recommendations.

During a coffee break, I ask Kim if she saves her lists. "Oh yes, I have boxes full of them." She goes on to say that she's been saving them since the early nineties when a European museum director suggested that she should keep them. She has also been saving the on-site notes and sketches I had watched her scribble onto the blank spots of printed matter she scavenged from gallery desks along the way.

I guess that's exactly where and when the idea for Itineraries originated. Incurably predisposed as I am toward the obsessive and systematic, I found these little documents irresistible. But more than that, I felt as though I had stumbled upon an archive of remarkable interest, a feeling confirmed when Ms. Levin generously granted me access to her files. Represented here was more than a decade of exhibition history from arguably the worlds most important art center, all from a constant perspective. And since all of the itineraries and most of the other jottings were applied to promotional materials directly connected to the very subject of Levin's weekly investigations, we are left with an especially layered record of the New York art scene as a century turned.

I suppose that Ms. Levin's contribution can be conveniently examined via microfiche and the digital archives of The Village Voice. But instead of the tidy columns of print that have appeared so dependably each Wednesday, I prefer the spontaneous notes and impromptu drawings on scraps of dated material, evidence of an inventive and disciplined mind fully engaged with the art of a particular time in a particular place.