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Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D) Archive: Home


Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D) was founded in 1979 by Lucy Lippard to collect and document political and socially responsive art activities. In nine years of events, the organization assembled thousands of postcards, posters, and other pieces of ephemera, organized many influential exhibitions and programs, as well as publishing the semi-quarterly periodical Upfront. This collection comprises the ephemeral files amassed by PAD/D, its organizational and personal records, a large collection of posters, and the original card catalog used by PAD/D members. The finding aid can be found here. This LibGuide will detail the contents and significance of the archive, and provide context for the time period using other resources within MoMA and other outside collections.

PAD/D History

In 1979 writer, art critic, and activist Lucy Lippard organized an exhibition for Artists Space called Art From the British Left (June 16-July 14, 1979). On the rear side of the exhibition announcement she included a note stating her intention to build an archive of political art and art ephemera. What came of this meetings was the creation of not only an archive but  a network of artists interested in socially concerned art. This was the first mention of what would become the influential organization we now know as PAD/D.

Exhibition announcement for Art From the British Left at Artist Space in 1979.Verso of exhibition announcement for Art From the British Left at Artist Space 1979

PAD/D, I.1347. MoMA Archives, NY.

On February 24, 1980 Lippard called a meeting at the bookstore and artist’s book distributor Printed Matter, then on Lispenard Street in Tribeca. The meeting was attended by some fifty artists, writers, and activists, all seeking a community to address the state of the art world within the larger ever-changing sociopolitical atmosphere. Artists and art workers who would go on to be vital to the organization were Jerry Kearns, Gregory Sholette, Mimi Smith, Barbara Moore, Herb Perr, Jerri Allyn, Keith Christenson, Elizabeth Kulas, Richard Mayer, Tim Rollins, Julie Ault, Doug Ashford, Irving Wexler, and Anne Pitrone. Also in attendance was former Museum of Modern Art Library director, Clive Philpot. It was Philpot who suggested the name Political Art Documentation, or PAD. Some months later, after the first few initial meetings, it was decided that "Distribution" should be added to the name to represent the artworks being created by the organization as a whole, thus becoming Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D). As membership grew they began to split into subcommittees, such as networking, finance, and the archive. They found their first home in the old P.S. 64 schoolhouse building turned community center on East 10th Street, known as El Bohio.


PAD/D, I.1345. MoMA Archives, NY (right).

There was a lot of enthusiasm about PAD/D in 1981. That year they launched one of their first major projects, Death and Taxes, for which PAD/D sent out an open invitation to NYC-based artists to produce public works protesting the use of federal taxes for the military rather than social projects. Artists were asked to document their works and to send them to Gallery 345, located just downstairs from PAD/D's headquarters in the El Bohio building. Approximately twenty artists sent in works they created and while also dispersing and displaying the works throughout the subway, banks, libraries, and other public places.

PAD/D also published their first two issues of a new magazine, appropriately titled First Issue, in February and May. Naturally this title was confounding to many, and later issues were retitled Upfront starting in 1982. The first issue was only four pages and acted as more of an introduction to the organization. Upfront would run semi-quarterly issues up until PAD/D’s dissolution in 1988.


PAD/D, I.195. MoMA Archives, NY (top left). PAD/D, I.638. MoMA Archives, NY (top right). 

PAD/D, I.2359. MoMA Archives, NY (bottom row).

PAD/D hosted what would be the first national conference of activist artists and art organizations, named The February 26th Movement, on February 26th and 27th, 1982 at Bread & Roses, 1199 Health and Hospital Workers Union Hall on West 43rd Street. It represented a monumental mobilization of art organizations and their alternative spaces. The timing of this gathering was carefully planned to coincide with the College Art Association's national conference, happening nearby in Manhattan. Their goal was to build an organizational network and to develop new forms of distribution of ideas and systems for progressive culture. There were multiple panel discussions on subjects such as "NYC: Politics in Form" and "Getting It Out” which would discuss alternative distribution systems. Video programs and performances filled out the schedule.

As PAD/D began to grow, the need for a larger space finally came about in late 1981, early 1982. They moved from the El Bohio building at 355 E 10th St to the “Peace Pentagon” at 339 Lafayette St. It was dubbed the Peace Pentagon because it housed such organizations as the War Resister’s League, the New York Anti-Nuclear Group, and Art for Social Change. In the same year, they also received a small grant for Upfront from the National Endowment for the Arts, just for it to be rescinded by the NEA chairman Frank Hodell, appointed by president Ronald Reagan the previous year.

PAD/D, I.763. MoMA Archives, NY (left). PAD/D, I.764. MoMA Archives, NY (right).

PAD/D, I.2365. MoMA Archives, NY (bottom).

In 1982, a PAD/D reading group composed of Jim Murray, Gregory Sholette, Janet Koenig, Ed Eisenberg, and Michael Anderson was formed after the February 26th Movement. About a year later, they became frustrated with the lack of action being taken to combat the encroaching gentrification happening in the Lower East Side, where many PAD/D members lived. This reading group became an action group and created the Not For Sale committee. Their first project took place in El Bohio and featured more than 200 art works. The show was written about in the New York Times, and it dawned on members of the subcommittee that this effort was counterproductive to what the Not For Sale committee initially sought out to do. By having a major publication write a review, PAD/D was concerned that it would draw the wrong audience, and set them further down the path of gentrification.


PAD/D, I.1656. MoMA Archives, NY (bottom left). PAD/D, I.1673. MoMA Archives, NY (bottom right).

The Not For Sale committee decided to try again, and christened the new project Art for the Evicted: A Project Against Displacement. Instead of bringing people to the work in a gallery setting, they put the work in the middle of the neighborhood they were trying to preserve. The project called for artists to produce multiple copies of posters protesting the rapid gentrification of the Lower East Side which the Not For Sale committee would continually be posted around the neighborhood each time the posters were taken down or pasted over. The result was a month-long outdoor art exhibition with four made-up "galleries" named The Discount Salon, Another Gallery, the Guggenheim Downtown, and the Leona Helmsley Gallery (Helmsley was a notorious New York real estate magnate nicknamed the "Queen of Mean"; she would later be imprisoned for tax evasion). This show was a much more interactive and public statement, more in line with PAD/D’s mission than the 1983 group exhibition Not For Sale at El Bohio.

PAD/D, I.1763. MoMA Archives, NY.

In the fall of 1984, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush were campaigning for a second term in office. PAD/D began their largest project to date to protest this. State of Mind/State of the Union was a three-month long multi-media program that included gallery exhibitions, outdoor events, a mail art campaign, and a performance series. The program strived to provide artists with an opportunity to convey their views on where the U.S. was in a critical moment in history and where they think it should be going. There were four parts to the project: exhibitions, outdoor street works, “image-grams”, and performances.


There were several exhibitions held at different galleries around the city, including P.S. 122, Dance Theatre Workshop, and Ronald Feldman Gallery. PAD/D also organized a collaborative exhibition with Group Material, Artists’ Call Against U.S. Intervention in El Salvador, and Art Against Apartheid at P.S.1 in Long Island City.

Outdoor Street Works

The Outdoor Street Works aimed to saturate the city with images—including graffiti, posters, stickers, and street performances—meant to expose what PAD/D members felt were falsities being propagated by Reagan's reelection campaign.


The Image-gram initiative was an effort to inundate the White House with mail art protesting Reagan’s reelection. Artists around the country sent in collages, photographs, paintings and drawings to the White House, along with additional copies to the PAD/D archive.


A number of performances were staged around the city at multiple locations that ranged from deeply personal solo performances to more straightforward agitprop works. The evening event served more as an organizing tool for artists rather than a cohesive performance art event.


PAD/D, I.2203. MoMA Archives, NY (top left). PAD/D, I.2203. MoMA Archives, NY (top right).

PAD/D, I.2205. MoMA Archives, NY (bottom row).

Concrete Crisis was a poster exhibition held at Exit Art February 19 to March 21, 1986. Over seventy artists produced posters relating to the  purported decline of New York City. The posters submitted portrayed the city in decay, with crumbling buildings, widespread homelessness, and rampant crime. In addition to the gallery show, select posters were duplicated and pasted around the neighborhood, and a portfolio of posters was produced and available for purchase. This portfolio can be found in folders III.105 and the corresponding box in III.106.

PAD/D, III.103. MoMA Archives, NY (top). PAD/D, I.547. MoMA Archives, NY (bottom).

By 1987 momentum for political action began to fade. Lippard decided to publish one final issue of Upfront. She remarked in the issue that “we seem to have reached the end of yet another cycle of organizational energy.” Time spent  running the non-profit organization began to exceed the time spent taking action and making art. The final issue of Upfront was published as usual with articles from various artists and writers, with only a brief passage marking the end of PAD/D. In 1988 PAD/D’s non-profit status officially lapsed while MoMA held the exhibition Committed to Print [MoMA Exh. #1473, January 31–April 19, 1988] The exhibition focused on social and political themes in American printed art and PAD/D posters were heavily featured.

PAD/D, I.2366. MoMA Archives, NY (left). Installation photograph for Committed to Print [MoMA Exh. #1473, January 31–April 19, 1988]. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. IN1473.022. Photograph by Kate Keller (right).

Programs and Publications

PAD/D nurtured its network of socially concerned artists through a monthly public dialogue series called Second Sundays. Held on the second Sunday of each month, PAD/D members and others from the community gathered together at Franklin Furnace to discuss a wide array of political topics. Each Sunday a different topic was highlighted such as civil liberties, abortion rights and reproductive health, art and ecology, and many others.


PAD/D, I.1650. MoMA Archives, NY.

On May 3rd 1981, a massive march on the Pentagon was organized by the People's Antiwar Mobilization. This march was to protest budget cuts and the US involvement in El Salvador and Nicaragua. PAD/D members fabricated large cardboard picket signs in member Mark Glier's studio. One side depicted black and white drawings of military objects, such as tanks and rifles, all crossed out with a large red "X". The opposite side showed colorful images of things that PAD/D viewed as things the government should be spending US taxes on, such as a loaf of bread, a hammer, and two hands, one black and one white, clasped together.


PAD/D, I.1728. MoMA Archives, NY.

Carnival Knowledge was an art collective formed in 1981 by PAD/D member Anne Pitrone in response to the Moral Majority anti-abortion campaign. Carnival Knowledge sought to fight for women’s reproductive rights and to erase the taboo behind women’s sexuality. In January 1984 they held an exhibition at Franklin Furnace titled Carnival Knowledge: The Second Coming (January 4-February 4, 1984) which included a bookstore on the main floor with artists’ books and small objects for purchase, and “imaginary rooms” on the basement floor containing interactive installations and games, and video works. Twice a week they would hold performances in the space as well.

PAD/D, I.417. MoMA Archives, NY.

Upfront was created to act as PAD/D's "more-or-less quarterly" newsletter. Fifteen issues were published from years 1981 to 1987, the first two issues actually being titled First IssueUpfront featured articles from PAD/D members and outside artists about political happenings and political art news primarily in the U.S., but occasionally venturing overseas. It was managed by a subcommittee of members, including Lucy Lippard, Herb Perr, Irving Wexler, Stuart Garber, and Marguerite Bunyan.

PAD/D. I.2366, MoMA Archives, NY.

Red Letter Days was a monthly newsletter released by PAD/D. It featured a listing of political art shows and events going on within the community in New York City. This was more regular than issues of Upfront and helped to foster constant collaboration and organization within the New York City art community.

PAD/D, I.1905. MoMA Archives, NY.