Oklahoma Contemporary
Okla. Contemporary Art Reference Library
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New Light

Aug. 23, 2021

Pump Up the Volumes

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A visitor selects books from the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Library System.
We join forces with the Metropolitan Library System to open the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library downtown

Many art reference libraries come with a brutal caveat: The books cannot be checked out. This forces art lovers to soak in as much information as they can at the library, as they can’t enjoy and study the books in the comfort of their own homes, schools or businesses.

For OKC, that changes now. Today, the Metropolitan Library System and Oklahoma Contemporary open the new Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library, a circulating collection located on the second floor of the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library. Consisting of over 400 books covering the history, importance and key players of contemporary art, the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library encourages visitors not only to browse and enjoy the new space, but to take books with them.

ArtDesk magazine, the Kirkpatrick Foundation and Oklahoma Contemporary Chairman and Founder Christian Keesee worked with the library and the art center to bring the collection to life. Many of the titles came from Keesee’s private shelves, while others were reviewed by ArtDesk magazine or recommended by the staff at Oklahoma Contemporary.

Oklahoma Contemporary Artistic Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis said the idea for the art reference library came from Keesee, who saw a specific need that was not being met by many similar collections.

“Oklahoma Contemporary encourages artistic expression in all its forms, and that very much includes literature and poetry, the literary arts and writing. We have a small, non-circulating reading library of art design, architecture, performance and dance books in our Creative Lounge,” Davis said.

“After a visit to the downtown branch of the library, Mr. Keesee pitched an idea for a collaboration with the Metropolitan Library System. We started conversations with the library, which has been a partner of ours for many years. We began a dialogue about how we could collaborate to form a collection that would circulate.”

Louisa McCune, Kirkpatrick Foundation executive director, said today’s artists frame issues, improve communities and affect change. Their spotlight in Metro Library’s art reference library makes this a one-of-a-kind resource for the residents of Oklahoma County.

“Not only does this library make picture perfect the process of private and public collaboration, but it re-enforces the reality that artists are cultivated in the widespread reaches of every city, town and village,” McCune said. “Art democratizes, and so does this library collection.”

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A visitor holds several books from the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library. Photo courtesy Metropolitan Library System.

The Art Reference Library features benches reminiscent of an art museum and, of course, the wildly vibrant books, which cover a broad array of topics, including Native American artists and women in art. It also includes some topics that greatly expand the understanding of what contemporary art encompasses, like street art, graffiti, Polaroid photography and even children’s pop-up books. The collection includes volumes on Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Banksy and Roy Lichtenstein as well as books on Ed Ruscha, Ai Weiwei and David Hockney.

For Judie Matthews, special collections librarian for Metropolitan Library System, the creation of the Art Reference Library helps extend the mission of both Oklahoma Contemporary and the downtown library.

"The public library should be a responsive and innovative space,” Matthews said. “We want customers to discover new and exciting things that answer questions and engage their minds every time they walk through our doors or go to our website.”

Keesee said that, more than anything else, his hope for the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library is that it be used frequently and enthusiastically.

“I hope that people will be able to use the library to further their curiosity about contemporary art in general, but more specifically about the artists we are exhibiting at Oklahoma Contemporary,” he said. “What would really be great would be if many of the books got worn out and needed to be replaced.”

And it will grow. Davis said the possibilities for expanding the collection are enormous.

“The section the library dedicated to the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library can currently shelve a few thousand books. So I think we could have upwards of 10,000 books in this large section of the library. So even though 400 seems like a lot, it's actually small compared to its potential.”

The Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library is now open at downtown library! The Metropolitan Library System has more information about visiting and checking out books.

Tags tags
Oklahoma Contemporary Oklahoma Contemporary Art Reference Library Metropolitan Library System Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library ArtDesk Kirkpatrick Foundation Banksy Takashi Murakami Roy Lichtenstein Keith Haring Ed Ruscha David Hockney Ai Weiwei

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Visit us at 11 NW 11th St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73103
Phone: 405 951 0000
Fax: 405 951 0003

Oklahoma Contemporary
P.O. Box 3062
Oklahoma City, OK 73101

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