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Robert Rainwater (1942–2018)

Robert Rainwater, a curator, librarian, and art historian who significantly expanded the New York Public Library’s collection of modern and contemporary prints and artists’ books, has died at the age of seventy-five. Rainwater became curator of the New York Public Library’s print division in 1979, and over the course of nearly four decades he organized exhibitions with artists including Richard Tuttle and Lawrence Weiner. After Dorothea Tanning donated a significant collection of prints and posters of her late husband’s work, Rainwater organized “Max Ernst: Beyond Surrealism” in 1968, and Tanning subsequently donated many of her own works to the library. Rainwater also brought significant collections of Dada, Arte Povera, and artists’ books by Ed Ruscha and Anselm Kiefer to the institution. In addition to expanding the library’s holdings of art, prints, and photographs, Rainwater worked on its robust public programming, which included a series of artist interviews he organized in conjunction with Printed Matter, where he was a longtime board member. 

Rainwater was born in Okmuglee, Oklahoma, in 1942, and studied art history and painting at the University of Arkansas. After graduating in 1966, he joined the New York Public Library as a technical assistant in the art and architecture division in 1968. He completed his master’s degree in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1969 and finished his coursework in the Ph.D. program there in 1971, where he focused on Surrealism. In a 1966 application for a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, he wrote, “I have decided to devote my fullest energies to study in this field.”