‘Sackner Archive’ Exhibition Brings New Meanings to Poetry and Visual Art

The University of Iowa Main Library Gallery recently unveiled its new exhibit, The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, a collection of more than 75,000 artistic works. The exhibition highlights selected pieces that bring new and intriguing meaning to poetry and form an intersection between literature and the visual arts.

jake buth

The University of Iowa Main Library is seen on Wednesday, April 15.


Coming on Sackner Archives exhibition, a plethora of literary and visual artistic works are encased in glass boxes and hung on every available wall, with colors popping from the pages and words arranged in intricate and eccentric patterns that attract a unique artistic experience.

The collection of over 75,000 works of concrete and visual poetry has been accumulated by Ruth and Marvin Sackner since 1979. Although both Sackners are now deceased, their decades of work are commemorated in the archives.

Originally founded in Miami Beach, Florida, the archive has a long history of relocations, but found permanent residence at the University of Iowa in 2019, according to a press release from the Main Library Gallery.

The Library’s Main Gallery unveiled the exhibition Sackner Archives at the end of August, containing a sample of more than 70 selected pieces from the complete collection. The exhibition allows students and guests to learn about concrete poetry – a style of poetry where the meaning of the poem is conveyed visually or through a motif – as well as the history of the style and the various ways in which it can take shape. Currently, Sackner Archives can only be visited in person by appointment, but there is an extensive online gallery which presents and explains many pieces of the exhibition.

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Main Library Gallery Exhibit and Engagement Coordinator Sara J. Pinkham said the archive aims to exhibit unique and innovative ways for visitors to read poetry, as opposed to poetry. traditional linear from left to right.

“[The archive] is very eclectic. The Sackners were collectors who had an eye for the unique and the daring, a reverence for early works, and a deep appreciation for living artists and their creative processes,” Pinkham said. “The exhibit itself is a great way to both get familiar with the Sackner collection and learn about forms of poetry that are perhaps a little more off the beaten path.”

Tim Shipe, curator of the International Dada Archive and one of three co-curators of the Sackner Archives exhibition, described the process as a team effort to ensure the user interface would be fit to hold the collection.

“My own involvement began in early 2018 when Marvin Sackner was looking for a permanent location for the collection,” Shipe said. “Along with several others, I helped make the case that Iowa was the perfect place to carry on the Sacners’ legacy.”

Shipe went on to describe the collection as a snapshot of the Sackners’ daily lives. They collected the works, lived among them in their house, studied them and compiled catalogs. They even sent them on loan to exhibits around the world before finding the entire archive a permanent home in Iowa.

“But it was still a private collection in a private home, and the Sacners always considered eventually finding a new home in an institution where it could more easily be made available to the public,” Shipe said.

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The exhibit’s co-curator, Peter Balestrieri, curator of special collections for science fiction and popular culture collections at UI Libraries, said the Sackners’ original purpose is still being achieved through the ‘exposure.

“The goal of the Sackner Archive was to preserve a lifetime of passionate collecting that Marvin and Ruth Sackner accomplished in the realms of concrete and visual poetry. That was and is his primary goal. By accomplishing this goal, he expanded the boundaries of concrete and visual poetry and created a research resource unique in the world,” Balestrieri wrote in an email to The Iowan Daily.

Balestrieri said archives can be a great source of inspiration for budding authors and artists, both on and off campus.

“It’s a testament to the human imagination, and it’s an honor and a privilege to host it and provide access to events like this exhibit,” he said.