Reading the Room: Reconstructing the Boston Athenæum

Reading the Room: Reconstructing the Boston Athenæum

March 1, 2023 – May 2023

In 2022, Newton-based photographer Tira Khan served as the Artist in Residence at the Boston Athenæum. During this time, she documented the evolution of the library during its historic revitalization and building expansion.

Reading the Room presents spaces in the midst of change and as sites of transition between the old and new. This project looks ahead to the future with an eye on the past. From chaotic construction sites to the quietude of artwork in storage, the photographs explore space as a receptacle for personal and institutional memory. Please find the artist’s statement here.

A Place I Never Knew

A Place I Never Knew, Photographs by Tira Khan

November 14, 2022 – February 20, 2023

A Place I Never Knew (2019) explores Rampur, India, a Muslim-majority city and artist Tira Khan’s ancestral home. Formerly a Princely State of British India, Rampur gained independence in 1949. Today, the city struggles with increasing poverty and illiteracy. Ranging from sensitive portraits of residents to photographs of urban structures and homes, Khan’s images are intensely colorful and crisp. The artist’s eye for juxtaposition, texture, and color effectively bridge the past and present to capture the complexities of this little-known city. Throughout the series, Khan grapples with her relationship to Rampur, a place she never knew despite her family ties. 

About the Artist

Photographer Tira Khan is based in Newton, Massachusetts. She began her career as a writer, working as a staff reporter at daily newspapers. Khan’s work explores the meaning of family and the architecture of place, and she believes documentary photography is important as both art and historical record. She exhibits her work internationally in galleries, books, magazines, and festivals.

In 2022, Khan was Artist in Residence at the Boston Athenaeum and documented the changing spaces of the library during its historic renovation.

What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women,1843-1999

What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women, 1843-1999
A Hands-on Reading Room Exhibition, Henry Long Room

Organized in collaboration with  10 x 10 Photobooks

March 2-4, 2023

What They Saw: Historical Photobooks by Women, 1843-1999, was a hands-on reading room showcasing a global selection of photobooks by female photographers from photography’s beginnings to the dawn of the 21st century. 

Materialia Lumina | Luminous Books: Concept & Craft in Contemporary Artists’ Books

Suzanne Moore, Zero: Cypher of Infinity (Vashon Island, Washington, 2014)

Suzanne Moore, Zero: Cypher of Infinity (Vashon Island, Washington, 2014)

Sue Anderson and Gwen Harrison, Howl for a Black Cockatoou (Sydney: Impediment Press, 2015)

Materialia Lumina | Luminous Books: Concept & Craft in Contemporary Artists’ Books

November 15, 2022 – March 11, 2023

Materialia Lumina | Luminous Books showcases a selection of outstanding contemporary artists’ books created by some of the world’s most accomplished makers over the past twenty-five years. The books embody a distinctive marriage of “high craft” with “high concept.” They demonstrate a mastery of the traditional arts of the book—printing, printmaking, typography, calligraphy, bookbinding, papermaking, and graphic design—intersecting vigorously with the conceptual daring and exploratory nature of the best contemporary art. The exhibition explores the extraordinary level of skill and persistence involved in creating these beautiful works, as well as their unique power to speak to a range of contemporary issues and concerns. 

These forty selections from the Athenæum’s holdings and the collection of a generous private lender were drawn from a curated list of 75 exemplary works, out of more than 6,000 pieces exhibited at the CODEX International Book Fair, the world’s largest venue for contemporary artists’ books, since the fair’s inception in 2007. The Athenæum is one of three venues for this international exhibition, along with Stanford University Libraries and the Klingspor Museum in Offenbach, Germany. A substantial catalog, with descriptive essays and extensive illustrations, accompanies the exhibition. 

Books on display from the Boston Athenæum’s collection are cataloged in Athena, the Athenaeum’s online catalog, and can be consulted in the Vershbow Special Collections reading room after the exhibition concludes.

The exhibition was curated by John Buchtel and designed by Jennifer L. Munson. The exhibition catalog, Materialia Lumina: Contemporary Artists’ Books from the CODEX International Book Fair, was jointly published by the CODEX Foundation and Stanford University Libraries with support from the Boston Athenæum. Works featured in the catalog were selected by Peter Koch, Susan Filter, Roberto Trujillo, and members of the CODEX Foundation Board of Directors.

Revisiting the Ruins: The Great Boston Fire of 1872

Revisiting the Ruins: The Great Boston Fire of 1872

April 7–July 29, 2023 in the Calderwood Gallery

Beginning on November 9, 1872, fire ravaged Boston’s central commercial district for nearly twenty hours. By late afternoon the next day, sixty-five acres of the city lay in ruin. The fire destroyed 776 buildings, and the Boston Athenæum was spared by just two blocks. 1,000 people lost their homes and another 20,000 lost jobs. It is estimated that thirty people lost their lives. 

Many factors fueled the blaze: a horse flu epidemic, highly flammable wooden rooftops, and low water pressure, to name a few. The Great Boston Fire occurred just one year after the Great Chicago Fire (1871) and not long after the havoc of the Civil War (1861-65). Though these earlier catastrophes impacted New England, they happened hundreds of miles away. This time, Bostonians were confronted with destruction up close. 

Artists, journalists, and eyewitnesses rushed to record the devastation. Photographic technology at the time could not capture the fire as it happened, so ruins became the basis for many depictions. Photographers swarmed The Burnt District and created romanticized images of the fire’s aftermath. Newspapers printed pictures and sensationalized accounts of the disaster. Relics, written remembrances, maps, and works of art became material commemorations of the fire. Stereographs, a popular form of nineteenth-century entertainment, transported viewers to the ruins from the safety of their homes.

Not long after the fire, the rubble was cleared away to begin rebuilding, making way for the areas known today as the Financial District and Downtown Crossing. A century and a half later, what can we learn from revisiting the ruins?
Following the 150th anniversary of the Great Boston Fire, Revisiting the Ruins presents a range of media that documented the blaze and its aftermath. This exhibition will showcase powerful artifacts from a pivotal moment in Boston’s history while prompting visitors to consider how it has been remembered generations later.