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Plagens (Peter) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Preferred Citation
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Information
  • Biography/History
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Related Material

  • Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Title: Peter Plagens papers
    Creator: Plagens, Peter
    Identifier/Call Number: LSC.2255
    Physical Description: 13.4 Linear Feet (26 document boxes, 10 half document boxes, and 1 oversize flat box)
    Date (inclusive): 1938-2014
    Abstract: Peter Plagens is an abstract painter, art critic, professor and novelist based in New York City. The collection consists of art work, exhibition materials, art criticism, published and unpublished novels, correspondence, lectures, course materials, photographs, slides, notebooks, datebooks, journals, and memorabilia.
    Physical Location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    COLLECTION CONTAINS DIGITAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. To access digital materials you must notify the reference desk in advance of your visit.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Peter Plagens papers (Collection 2255). Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 7536560 

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Peter Plagens and Laurie Fendrich, 2014.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Kelly Besser in consultation with Genie Guerard and with supervision from Megan Hahn Fraser, 2014.
    Additional details and descriptions of certain items were provided by Peter Plagens via email correspondence with Kelly Besser in November and December 2014.


    Peter Plagens was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1941 but grew up in Los Angeles after his family moved when he was two years old. His parents, George and Jayne Plagens, who both worked, saved their cash to buy a small house in the city. Peter graduated from John Marshall High School, then paid his way through the University of Southern California (USC) with a partial scholarship from the university and a job at a supermarket.
    He received a Bachelor's degree from the USC School of Fine Arts in 1962 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University in 1964. He was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Painting and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in Painting.
    Plagens, an abstract painter, met fellow painter Walter Gabrielson in 1963 at USC when he returned to campus in an attempt to reclaim his undergraduate job in the Psychology Department on a research project called "BC: Analysis of Behavioral Cognition." According to Plagens, he returned to find that Gabrielson had taken his job drawing stimuli for social intelligence tests to be used by the Navy to assess the kind of crew members who could withstand confinement in submarines. The project now required two cartoonists, so Plagens began work on the project again but this time in a cubicle adjacent to Gabrielson. There they began their lifelong friendship.
    In 1969 Plagens returned to Los Angeles when Gabrielson found him a teaching job in the Art Department of San Fernando Valley State College, now known as California State University, Northridge. They shared an office on campus and became known informally among art students as the "Pete 'n' Wally Show," and from 1970 they shared a 3,000 square foot studio in Pasadena until Plagens left Northridge in 1978.
    Plagens has exhibited his work at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City for over 40 years, and his paintings are part of the permanent collections of many museums and corporations, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, Chase Manhattan Bank, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, California. Plagens' art has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in galleries and museums such as the USC Fisher Gallery, the Akron Art Museum, the Las Vegas Art Museum and Texas Gallery, Houston.
    According to Plagens' wife, painter Laurie Fendrich, Peter fell into writing art criticism but he also enjoys it. His first review appeared in Artforum in 1966. His writing has appeared in a multitude of publications including Art in America, Art News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, American Art and The Wall Street Journal. However, Plagens may be best known as the art critic and senior writer for Newsweek magazine between 1989 and 2003.
    Plagens has taught at Middlebury College in Vermont, Hofstra University in New York, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also chaired the art department, California State University at Northridge, USC, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin. Notably, in 1998 Plagens was one of four senior fellows in the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University.
    In addition to his work as an artist and educator, Plagens is also the author of five books: Sunshine Muse: Contemporary Art on the West Coast (1974), Moonlight Blues: An Artist's Art Criticism (1986), Time for Robo (1999), Sunshine Muse: Modern Art on the West Coast 1945-1970 (2000), The Art Critic (2008 and 2012), and Bruce Nauman: The True Artist (2014).
    Plagens works and lives in New York City with his wife, Laurie Fendrich.

    Scope and Content

    The Peter Plagens papers consist of art work, exhibition materials, art criticism, published and unpublished novels, correspondence, lectures, course materials, photographs, slides, notebooks, datebooks, journals and memorabilia, ranging in date from 1938 to 2014.

    Organization and Arrangement

    This collection has been arranged in the following series:
    • Series 1: Art Work
    • Series 2: Exhibition Materials
    • Series 3: Writing
    • Series 4: Correspondence
    • Series 5: Lectures
    • Series 6: Course Materials
    • Series 7: Photos and Slides
    • Series 8: Notebooks and Datebooks
    • Series 9: DRIPS
    • Series 10: Memorabilia

    Related Material

    Walter Gabrielson papers (Collection 1830).  Available at UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Art critics -- United States -- Archives.
    Painters -- United States -- Archives.
    Novelists, American -- 20th century -- Archives.