Getty Research Institute Launches African American Art History Initiative, Acquires Betye Saar’s Archive

Betye Saar.


The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles has launched a new African American Art History Initiative with $5 million allocated for the creation of what a press release calls “a major center for the study of African American art history.” The initiative’s first big move: the acquisition of the archive of American artist Betye Saar.

The new initiative will fund a dedicated curatorship in African American art history; a bibliographer with a focus on the subject; research fellowships; an oral history project dedicated to recording the stories of African American artists, scholars, critics, collectors, and dealers; and institutional collaborations to digitize archival collections and conceive conferences, publications, and more.

In a statement, James Cuno, the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, said, “The Getty is making a strong, long-term commitment of unprecedented breadth to the field of African American art history. The study of African American art history is fundamental to a comprehensive understanding of American art history. We aim to bring our resources, talents, and relationships together to promote advanced research in an area of American art that has been underfunded and under researched.”

Saar’s archive, the first to be acquired as part of the new program, joins those of other African American artists in the Getty’s collection, including Adrian Piper, Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson, and Mark Bradford. About Saar, Andrew Perchuk, the acting director of the Getty Research Institute, said, “She played a large role in our exploration of postwar Los Angeles art that became Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980, and this acquisition is a particularly meaningful way for us to launch the African American Art History Initiative.”

In the announcement, Saar herself said, “ ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without’ was a common saying during my childhood. . . . I am very pleased that the Getty Research Institute shares my desire for ‘saving things’ and that they will be providing a home for many of my collections so that they will be accessible by scholars, the arts community, and the generally curious alike.”

Joining the African American Art History Initiative as a senior consultant is Kellie Jones, whose 2017 book South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s charts the migratory history of black artists making their way west and working in new and catalytic ways in California. In the announcement, Jones said, “The Getty is telling the world, through its actions, that American art has many facets. . . . In partnering with other institutions, including historically black colleges, we are also creating community through scholarship. I’m especially excited to think about the educational possibilities, at all levels, that will come out of this work.”

In addition to Jones, the initiative’s advisory board also includes noted collector Pamela Joyner, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Tate Modern curator Mark Godfrey, Hammer Museum curator Erin Christovale, and University of California, Irvine, professor Bridget Cooks, among others.


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