The Research Library of The Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Brentwood, Los Angeles – housed in the 201,000-square-foot GRI building – is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The GRI building is west of the Central Garden at The Getty Center Los Angeles, which was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Meier. The Getty Center Los Angeles sits on a ridge on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains.
There are three other buildings in the Getty Center – the J. Paul Getty Museum and two buildings that house the Getty Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the J. Paul Getty Trust administration offices. [The Getty Museum has a second, older campus in Pacific Palisades, California, the Getty Villa, a museum in the shape of a Roman villa that showcases ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art.] Clad in 1,200,000 square feet of cleft-cut Italian travertine stone, the buildings are no more than two floors above grade and have subterranean floors that are connected by tunnels to ensure it is possible to rapidly move art and other materials within the complex.
The general library collections (secondary sources) include over 1,000,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues. These general collections encompass art history, architecture, and archeology, as well as related fields in the humanities. It covers porehistoric art to contemporary art.
The emphasis is on European art history and culture in Western Europe and North America. However, in recent years the Research Library has acquired increasing numbers of books on Eastern European, Latin American, and Asian art history. The general collections include books on “the methods and materials of artistic production, and conservation are core areas of the holdings in classical antiquities, medieval and Renaissance art, sculpture and the decorative arts, prints and drawings, and photography. The conservation collection includes more than 45,000 titles and 60,000 volumes of primary and secondary sources related to the conservation, management, and protection of cultural property from paintings to architecture.”
The special collections include rare books, artists’ journals, sketchbooks, manuscripts, archival documents, architectural drawings, architectural models, prints, photographs, and archival materials.The Research Library states, “The Photo Study Collection contains approximately two million study photographs of art and architecture from the ancient world through the 20th century. The library also maintains a copy of the Princeton Index of Christian Art, an iconographic index of Early Christian and medieval art objects. The Research Library supports its own conservation laboratory dedicated to the preservation of Research Institute collection materials, and is home to the Getty Institutional Archives.”
In addition to research programs, the Getty Research Institute offers exhibition and publication programs. The Research Library is one of several ways the GRI provides support to scholars around the world. The GRI also provides scholars with residencies and fellowships. It also publishes books and creates online resources.
An operational arm of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the GRI conducts and facilitates advanced research to increase knowledge of art and art history. The parsimonious billionaire oilman, industrialist, and art collector Jean Paul Getty (1892-1976) founded the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1953. Staff members, Getty scholars, and visiting researchers use the Research Library.
Twice in a row, chief executives of the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) have become presidents of the J. Paul Getty Trust. When Barry Munitz, a former chancellor of the California State University system resigned under pressure, James N. Wood (1941-2010), who had acquired theGeorge F. Harding Collection of Arms & Armorfor the AIC in 1982 and oversaw a number of notable exhibitions, was persuaded to come out of retirement to become President & CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust in 2006.
James N. Wood had served as President & Director of the AIC from 1980 to 2004. It should be amazing Wood was the first head of the J. Paul Getty Trust to have serious experience as an art museum administrator. Ed Wyatt reported in The New York Times in April of 2009 that the value of the J. Paul Getty Trust’s endowment had declined 27% since the end of the previous fiscal year to $4,200,000,000 (“Getty Fees and Budget Reassessed”).
As a result, the J. Paul Getty Trust’s budget dropped 24% to $220,000,000, ninety-seven employees were laid-off, and 108 budgeted positions were eliminated. In the Web version of the article, which included a correction, Wyatt wrote that the GRI would “cut library hours and acquisitions and transfer some databases to other institutions.”
Wood told the press he would prefer not to lay-off workers, but he had little choice if he wanted the Getty Museum to remain a free museum with the same hours. He died of a heart attack in 2010 at the age of sixty-nine.
In May of 2011, his immediate successor at the AIC, James Cuno, who opened the AIC’s Modern Wing in 2009, announced he had resigned because he had been recruited to replace him at the J. Paul Getty Trust as well. Cuno told reporters, “I would never have left for another museum, but the Getty Trust is more than a museum, and the possibility of working with four specialized divisions to preserve and advance the legacy of art is very exciting.”
According to the GRI, “The circular library evokes the introspective nature of scholarly research, with book stacks and reading areas wrapping around a central courtyard. A ramp creates concentric paths, promoting interaction among the scholars and staff. A skylight pulls light through to the subterranean reading room. At the plaza level, a small exhibition gallery displays objects in the GRI’s collection for visitors.”
The Research Library offers three levels of reader privileges. It “is open to inquiries from visitors on a drop-in or appointment basis.” The three levels of reader privileges are Plaza Reader (“Access to books and periodicals in the Plaza Reading Room”); Stack Reader (“Access to the Research Library and Special Collections”); and Extended Reader (“Extended hours of access for specialists requiring concentrated use of the library and its collections”).
The Research Library is not a lending library, so any materials consulted must be read on-site. “Stack Readers, Extended Readers, Getty staff, in-residence Getty scholars and fellows, and Getty interns may consult the Research Institute’s Special Collections and Institutional Archives in the Special Collections Reading Room.”
On June 8, 2011, the GRI announced the acquisition of the Harald Szeemann Archive & Library, which the GRI described as “one of the most important private research collections for modern and contemporary art in the world.” The Swiss art historian Harald Szeemann (1933-2005) came to prominence as director of the Kunsthalle Bern – the art exhibition hall in Bern, Switzerland – from 1961 to 1969. He got the job at the age of twenty-eight, which made him the youngest museum director in the world.
The series of exhibitions he organized included works by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Andy Warhol (1928-1987), and James Rosenquist (born in 1933). According to the GRI, “He showcased kinetic art, op art, and Happenings, and was the first to commission Christo and Jeanne-Claude to wrap a building.”
Szeemann became truly famous in the international art world in 1969 with the exhibition Live in Your Head and the publication of the book When Attitudes Become Form, which the GRI described as “a sprawling and controversial international survey of postminimalism and arte povera at a moment when these movements had yet to gain wide exposure.”
He left the Kunsthalle Bern to become the world’s first full-time independent curator, and called his business the Agentur für geistige Gastarbeit (“Agency for Spiritual Guest-Labor”). In 1972, he organized the Documenta V, the fifth documenta – a 100-day-long modern and contemporary art show that takes place every five years in Kassel, Hesse, Germany. The GRI stated that “Szeemann transformed the exhibition into a dynamic and gargantuan survey of young artists from across the world.”
Subsequently, he served as co-director of the Venice Biennale in 1980. According to the GRI, “Szeemann introduced a new concept that became a mainstay of the Biennale: the Aperto, an international and multigenerational group exhibition that contrasted with the Biennale’s traditional focus on national pavilions. The important biennials he later organized in Lyon, Seville, and Kwangju—as well as his return to the Venice Biennale in both 1999 and 2001—broadcast astonishing surveys of art-making from all parts of the world.”
Over the course of his career, he organized over 200 art exhibitions, including Plateau of Humankind, Visionary Belgium (2005), Austria in a Lacework of Roses (1996), and Blood and Honey: Future’s in the Balkans (2003). [Szeemann died in 2005 at the age of seventy-one, before Visionary Belgium opened.] According to the Research Library, “Over the course of developing these many projects, Szeemann built an unparalleled research archive, gathering every piece of available information on the artists with whom he worked and carefully preserving the remarkable correspondence he maintained with his artists and colleagues.”
This is the largest collection ever acquired by the GRI. Deborah Marrow, then Interim President & CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, added, “This acquisition is a tribute to the strength of the Getty Research Institute’s exceptional collections and to the depth of its scholarship. The Research Institute is uniquely positioned to care for this extraordinary archive and to share it with a broad audience.”
Szeemann saved nearly every piece of correspondence, ephemera, and research material throughout his career. His approach to exhibition-making is mirrored in the structure of his archive. “Szeemann kept detailed notes of his thought process, constantly sketching and diagramming his concepts and recording his social interactions and impressions,” according to the GRI. The archive includes a comprehensive record of Szeemann’s correspondence with major artists, curators, and scholars from the late 1950s until his death in 2005; over 1,000 boxes of research files, containing letters, ephemera, drawings, and other rare and unique materials from the late 19th-century onward; 36,000 photographs, documenting Szeemann’s projects and the artists with whom he was associated; Szeemann’s library of over 28,000 volumes, including thousands of rare monographs, artists’ books, and limited edition publications, as well as special collections devoted to topics such as anarchism, pataphysics, and lesser-known artistic movements.
“Szeemann’s exhibition files contain riveting narratives of projects in development,” said Glenn Phillips, the GRI’s principal project specialist and consulting contemporary art curator. “Luminary artists confided in him and tested ideas. He carefully preserved not only the remarkable correspondence he received from artists and colleagues, but also the responses he sent back, keeping a complete record of communication chains that sometimes extend over decades.”
The GRI noted that “Significant work will be required over the next three to four years to prepare the collection and to make it accessible to scholars. The complex process of cataloguing and preserving the archive spanning more than 2,500 linear feet of materials will become part of a major research project and a case study for archival procedures. By acquiring this archive, the GRI takes on the responsibility of continuing the legacy of Harald Szeemann and his vision of 20th-century art history.”
The address of The Getty Research Institute is 1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100, Los Angeles, California 90049–1688. The telephone number is (310) 440-7335.
The Research Library is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. It is closed on weekends, on major U.S. holidays, Thanksgiving Day, and since this year Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve fall on weekends, it is also closed December 26–December 30.
The phone number of the Reference Desk is (310) 440-7390.