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Christopher Knowles Papers

Call Number



1973-2015, inclusive
; 1973-1990, bulk


Wilson, Robert 1941-
Knowles, Christopher
Johns, Jasper, 1930-
Glass, Philip
Cage, John
Knowles, Christopher


22.5 Linear Feet
in 24 boxes and 2 record cartons.

Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English.


The Christopher Knowles Papers contain material relating to the personal and professional life of visual and performing artist Christopher Knowles. Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1959, Knowles connected with avant-garde artist Robert Wilson at age 14, after Wilson heard a tape of Knowles speaking the words of his poem "Emily Likes the TV." They collaborated on many performances pieces, most notably "Einstein on the Beach." Knowles has performed internationally and has had his artwork exhibited in both joint and solo shows at galleries including, but not limited to, the Holly Solomon Gallery, Gavin Brown's Enterprise and the Museum of Modern Art. He continues to live and work in New York City.

Biographical / Historical

Born in Brooklyn in 1959, Christopher Knowles is an artist who works within a variety of mediums including performance, poetry, paintings and what are called "typings," visual pieces created using a typewriter, most commonly with the letter "c" for "Christopher". In 1973, at the age of 14, Knowles was approached by avant-garde theater director and artist Robert Wilson, who had heard a tape of Knowles reciting his piece, "Emily Loves the TV" and hoped to collaborate with Knowles. Knowles went, with his parents, to a performance of Wilson's "The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin," where Wilson brought Knowles on stage to perform what would become Knowles' piece, "Emily Likes the TV." This was the beginning of a long friendship which would lead them to collaborate many times over the years, most famously in 1976 on "Einstein on the Beach," which was also in collaboration with composer Philip Glass and choreographer Lucinda Childs. Knowles lived in Wilson's SoHo loft and art studio for a time, working with the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrd's, Wilson's art and performance collective. Other collaborative work included performances with Cindy Lubar and Richard Kostelanetz.

Knowles has had a number of joint and solo shows of his visual art at the Kitchen, the Holly Solomon Gallery, the Byrd Hoffman Studio, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, the Museum of Modern Art, ICA Philadelphia and the Louvre. The Museum of Modern Art acquired some of Knowles' Typings in 2013. Knowles continues to live and work in New York City and travels widely to perform.


This collection is arranged into 14 series:

SERIES I: Journals
SERIES II: Performance
Subseries A: Performance with Christopher Knowles
Subseries B: Performance without Christopher Knowles
SERIES III: Exhibitions
SERIES V: Correspondence
SERIES VII: Personal
SERIES VIII: Photographs
Subseries A: Photographs
Subseries B: Slides
SERIES IX: Sound recordings
SERIES X: Video recordings
SERIES XI: Data storage
SERIES XII: Sound and Video Preservaion
SERIES XIII: 2016 Accession SERIES XIV: Books

The material is arranged chronologically with the exceptions of Series II, Series IX, Series X, and Series XIV which are all arranged alphabetically. Series XIII has not been arranged by an archivist, and remains in the order in which it was received. Original order, as dictated by Knowles and a consulting archivist, was preserved wherever possible. Oversize material is arranged at the end, under the corresponding series number. There is also oversize material in map case 2D. Video and sound recordings, as well as the data storage, were left in the original order as received from the donor and given ID numbers.

Scope and Content

The collection contains material pertaining to Knowles professional work as an artist. However, much of that work was done as a young adolescent, which is reflected throughout the collection. His journals are a repository for his artwork as well as his personal life and contain reflections of his exhibited or performed art. There is material relating to the many performances in which he took part, including programs, press, reviews, source material, scripts, photographs and publicity. Some of the performances include "Einstein on the Beach," "The $ Value of Man," "A Letter for Queen Victoria," "Dialog/Curious George," and "Parzival." Many of these were collaborations with Robert Wilson. In addition to the paper material related to his performances, there are video and sound recordings of shows, as well as recordings that Knowles used as a part of his performances.

Knowles produced a large portfolio of paintings and drawings in addition to his performance art. The collection includes material documenting his exhibitions, both domestic and international, including press, gallery cards, exhibit catalogs and correspondence. There are photographs of his exhibited work, as well as slides, in addition to marker, pen and crayon drawings. Notably, Knowles created what are called "Typings," made with a typewriter and most commonly using the letter "c" to create designs and images. This collection contains quite a few typings, as well as typewritten poetry and some prose.

Correspondence includes letters, cards and postcards both sent and received by Knowles. Notable correspondence includes Jasper Johns, John Cage, Robert Wilson and Cindy Lubar. Knowles also designed and created a large number of birthday and father's day cards, as well as invitations to his shows and his own birthday parties.

Photographs include many taken of Knowles and his family, as well of images of his art. There are photographs of performances and rehearsals, international exhibits and shows, in addition to family vacations and his home in Brooklyn. There is a small amount of material relating to Knowles' personal life, including medical and educational information and resumes.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); Christopher Knowles Papers; MSS 414; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.

Location of Materials

Some materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Christopher Knowles Papers were donated by Christopher Knowles in October of 2014. The accession number associated with this donation is 2014.414. The 2016 Accretion to the Christopher Knowles Papers was received in February of 2016. The accession number associated with this gift is 2016.012.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Some audiovisual and born-digital materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers.

Separated Materials

Books included in this collection have been removed and will be cataloged in BobCat. They will be available via a BobCat search for "Christopher Knowles."

Related Materials

Judson Memorial Church Archive (MSS.094)

Collection processed by

Sophie Glidden-Lyon.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:23:15 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English

Processing Information

In 2016 an additional donation was received and added to the collection as a separate series in accordance with previous arrangement and descriptions. As there were no original folder titles available for the 2016 accession, these were supplied by an archivist. In 2019, books were processed as an additional series to the collection.

Revisions to this Guide

January 2019: Edited by Craig Savino to incorporate processed books


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012