LOS ANGELES — African-American art history resources could be described as something of a diaspora: Early letters by an important artist might be held at one university, her most prominent exhibition materials filed away at a museum, and notebooks and sketchbooks still stashed away in the artist’s studio. Today the Getty Research Institute is announcing a new program to help bring the pieces together: The African American Art History Initiative.
At its heart are plans for the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the academic branch of the J. Paul Getty Trust, to strengthen its African-American holdings through key archival acquisitions, and it has begun by collecting the papers of the pioneering assemblage artist Betye Saar, who lives in the city.
Kellie Jones, a Columbia University art historian who will be a senior consultant on this project, calls the Saar acquisition a strong start: “Saar is one of the major African-American artists in the region, somebody whom artists like John Outterbridge and David Hammons look up to. And she was born in 1926, so to start with something this wide-ranging is wonderful.”
With an initial budget of $5 million, the Getty has committed to hiring a curator and bibliographer in the field to help make new acquisitions and develop research projects, subsidizing two postgraduate fellowships in the field each year and partnering with educational institutions and museums to help them preserve, digitize and make public their own archives.
The Getty’s initial partners include the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, the California African American Museum, Art+Practice in Los Angeles and Spelman College in Atlanta, which has just received $5.4 million from the Walton Family Foundation to create the Atlanta University Center collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies.
“The Getty is not trying to do this all alone but in partnership with other important institutions,” said James Cuno, the trust’s president.
“I think the collaborative ethos here makes this project really exciting,” added Ms. Jones. “The collaboration can help move important archives out into other facets of the contemporary art world, whether the classroom or the museum.”
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