Last month the Getty Research Institute announced that they have pledged an initial $5M dollar investment to fund an ambitious program dedicated to curatorial research and scholarship of African-American art. The African American Art History Initiative will place the GRI at the center of scholarly research in Black art on the west coast and will further cement the roles of prominent African American artists in Los Angeles whose work is underrepresented in the canon of art history.
A critical component of this investment includes the Getty’s announcement that they will also acquire Betye Saar’s artistic archive. This acquisition adds to the GRI’s existing repository of archival material from other artists including Ed Bereal, Mark Bradford, Harry Drinkwater, Melvin Edwards, Benjamin Patterson, Lorna Simpson, and Kara Walker.
Saar’s extensive archive dates back to the late 1920s and includes a compendium of material from early childhood sketches, prints, drawings, graphics, artist statements, collaborative notes, and art ledgers that the artist continues to maintain today. Additionally, a cherished vintage photo album from Saar’s maternal family circa 1918 will also be archived. Some of these items, particularly the vintage photographs, found their way into her artistic practice which is rooted in assemblage. Saar’s work includes diverse representations of the medium, incorporating Jim Crow era racist collectibles, spiritual talismans, folk ephemera, and family heirlooms.
Additional components of the Getty’s African American Art History Initiative include academic partnerships with UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center and Spelman College as well as institutional support from CAAM, Art + Practice, and the Studio Museum of Harlem. The initiative will also fund research fellowships in addition to providing research resources for visiting scholars.
The program will be executed by a dedicated team of two curatorial and bibliographic staff members with strategic oversight coming from art historian Kellie Jones who will act as a consultant to refine the initiative’s vision and scope. Jones will also serve on an advisory committee that will shepherd the initiative’s outreach in the field.
This is a bold, substantive move for the Getty who has just scratched the surface in addressing the diversity of their collection’s holdings. This investment will not only expand the artistic canon to include the contributions of African American artists, but it will also place Los Angeles at the center for furthered study in the history of Black American art.
Full press release here.