Museum guestbooks: Pre-digital responses to art

Part of Liebovitz's ''Pilgrimage'' exhibit. (WTOP/Heather Brady)
The guestbook in Annie Leibovitz's "Pilgrimage" exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. (WTOP/Heather Brady)
"Because of you, I can teach my 14-year-old daughter about history and photography! (She has cerebral palsy…but a genius' eye for design)" (WTOP/Heather Brady)
"Annie - We fellow classmates are so very proud of you!" (Class of '67 Northwood High School) (WTOP/Heather Brady)
"Annie, you continue to inspire me - completely different body of works by you - your former intern from Gallaudet University." (WTOP/Heather Brady)
There were messages and signatures in languages other than English as well. (WTOP/Heather Brady)
"This exhibit is so evocative and moving. I see it as a gift from Annie Leibovitz to us; and I thank the Smithsonian Museum of Art for making it possible. Thank you." (WTOP/Heather Brady)
"Carl & Jean (Shine) Foster. Son Ryan, too. Long time family friends. Amazing work." (WTOP/Heather Brady)
"Dear Annie, the last time I wrote a personal message to an artist was in 1991 at the pop shop, on the wall shortly before Keith Harring's death. I have had the privilege of meeting some of my heros & inspirations along the way, these last 37 years. The idea that you might read this, fills me with great joy. Thank you for constantly changing the landscape of photography." (WTOP/Heather Brady)
"Annie spoke at the F.I.T. graduation in 2008. She was 100% great." (WTOP/Heather Brady)
The sign over the entrance to Liebovitz's "Pilgrimage" exhibit. (WTOP/Heather Brady)
Liebovitz's "Pilgrimage" exhibit. (WTOP/Heather Brady)

Heather Brady,

WASHINGTON – The guestbook in Annie Leibovitz’s “Pilgrimage” exhibit was easy to miss.

Tucked into a corner of the exhibit’s third and final room in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, it played last fiddle in an orchestra of photography showcasing what inspires Leibovitz as an American artist.

But some did stop to write or draw something – and Leibovitz might have seen their entries.

Andy Grundberg, associate provost and dean of undergraduate studies at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, curated Leibovitz’s exhibit, which was displayed in D.C. from January to May. It then began traveling to other museums.

“When I was there with her several weeks after the show opened, she looked at it,” he said. “I think she’s pretty fascinated to know how people are responding, as nature would indicate. I ended up looking at it whenever I went.”

Grundberg said he went back to the show around a dozen times. After giving a tour, he would gravitate back to the guestbook to read what people were writing. He was curious if the notes were influenced by each other.

“It’s an ongoing thing because from one week to the next, there would be all these additions,” Grundberg said. “The question I always have is whether people who are about to write in it go back and look and see what everybody else has written.”

Leibovitz is a celebrity in her own right as someone who’s photographed celebrities, Grundberg said. He thinks the entries in Leibovitz’s guestbook speak to the degree of intimacy that people feel with well-known celebs.

“It’s like,

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