Transcript of AS-AP Panel at CAA Conference, February 2008

Posted August 05, 2010 by admin

AS-AP Panel at CAA 2008


David Platzker (Moderator)
Liza Kirwin
Milan R. Hughston
John Tain
Jean-Noël Herlin

David Platzker:Good afternoon, I'm David Platzker, the Project Director for Art Spaces Archives Project -- AS-AS. On behalf of AS-AP I want to thank the College Art Association for providing AS-AP with the opportunity to present our fourth annual panel at a CAA Conference.

In 2005 we presented a panel that examined "buried treasures" hidden in archives. On that panel Irving Sandler spoke about the founding of Artists Space, and other speakers, including Marella Consolini, Julie Ault and Marvin Taylor spoke about how organizations can mine their archives, historians can study them and how libraries preserve and collect them.

In 2006 we presented a panel that was comprised of the founders of Godzilla: The Asian American Art Network and High Performance who talked about the rise and fall of their organizations, as well as Steven Englander, who spoke about the founding and continuing mission of ABC No Rio.

And in 2007 our panel featured the directors of four New York City based alternative spaces, each of which had directors that were substantially removed from the founding of their organizations. AS-AP looked at that panel as a template for future research by emerging scholars within the area of the avant-garde / alternative arts movement, with an emphasis on how it encouraged and extended the developing history of contemporary art at large.

Transcripts of these panels are available on the AS-AP website, which is

AS-AP is a non-profit initiative that was founded by a consortium of alternative arts organization including Bomb Magazine, College Art Association, Franklin Furnace Archive, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York State Artist Workspace Consortium, and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. In January 2008 AS-AP entered into a partnership with the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, which will shortly be taking over the Directorship of the AS-AP project.

AS-AP's mandate was conceived to help preserve, present and protect the archival heritage of living and defunct spaces of the alternative or avant-garde movement from the 1950s to the present throughout the United States.

In accomplishing this AS-AP has received funding from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

With the funding we have received, AS-AP has begun a long-term initiative documenting process -- compiling a large-scale national index of the avant-garde and beginning an assessment of need for archiving and preserving historic materials.

AS-AP's belief is beyond simply identifying the whereabouts of centers of activity. We acknowledge that there is an underlying need to assess, catalog and preserve important formative materials for study by historians with a critical distance.

I also want to acknowledge AS-AP's Steering Committee which includes a representative from the College Art Association; Linda Earle, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; Milan Hughston, the Chief Librarian at the Museum of Modern Art; Elizabeth Merena, from the Visual Arts Department at the New York State Council on the Arts; Maria Lind, Director of the Graduate Program, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; Andrew Perchuk, from the Getty Research Institute; Marvin Taylor, who is the librarian of the Downtown Collection at Fales Library at New York University; and Martha Wilson from the Franklin Furnace Archive.

AS-AP has constructed an on-line finding aid to the places, spaces and other centers of alternative art activity in the United States from the 1950s to the present. We've done so as we found, surprisingly, that no other such index has been compiled. This index is inclusive non-profit spaces, night clubs, periodicals and any other locus of activity including for-profit quasi-non-profit venues or other forms of hubs of activities, and to date we've indexed over 1000 such spaces.

Secondly, we're interested in the states of these archives -- how these archives currently exist. We see this as an essential responsibility of AS-AP as we recognize that most contemporary alternative or avant-garde arts organizations are by definition interested in embracing the new and not obsessing over the past.

Essentially we are asking alternative organizations pertinent questions with a 20-page survey that helps us assess the state of their archival holdings and potentially historic documents. Additionally we ask questions ranging from when organizations were founded; if they are active or defunct; information regarding founders, staff, exhibitions, publications and events. We ask essential questions about the types of materials organizations hold and their physical condition. Are documents held in banker boxes that are archival; are papers maintained in temperature-controlled areas, or are they in a wet basement? Are they moldy, are they about to be put on the street for recycling. Is your physical history being preserved or is it itself endangered?

In doing so AS-AP wants to determine the physical condition of these historic documents such as announcement cards, board minutes, correspondence, ephemeral materials, fiscal documents and other flotsam and jetsam that provide concrete documentation of artistic residue as well as more immediate materials such as audio tapes, artistic debris and other materials, if not the artworks themselves.

We recognize that these materials, if recognized, may have great value, both physically and historically, and most venues of the avant-garde or alternative activity simply don't have the time, money or desire to maintain these materials and occasionally throw them away, or at best send them into deep storage.

AS-AP's website, which is, is a public location for research, and I want to encourage you to browse the site, where you'll find more information about AS-AP, as well as our index to the alternative movement and other resources.

This year's panel,"Collecting the Avant-Garde: The Institutional Perspective--Taming the Untame," is intended to look at what three institutions and one individual hold in their archives, and specifically what materials from the avant-garde and alternative movements they hold. Additionally, the panel will discuss the role their archival materials play in recording, telegraphing, or revealing underlying historic information about art of the contemporary period.

The goal of the panel is two fold: first to encourage emerging scholars to engage with the history of the avant-garde / alternative movements, and secondly to highlight how institutions are working with and collecting materials of this period.

We're interested in showing how, for example, this flyer for the Times Square Show in 1980 -- which Jean-Noël Herlin describes as a "boisterous and tawdry affair on the four floors and in the basement of a former massage parlor" -- relates to the activities of the artists collective COLAB, which in turn relates to the founding of the alternative space on Manhattan's Lower East Side that would become known as ABC No Rio, and whose archives AS-AP featured on our CAA panel in 2006. The tawdry activities are not only revealed on this sole flyer but can be more deeply be plunged within the COLAB holdings at the Museum of Modern Art; within ABC No Rio's own archive; and within Jean-Noël’s own archive. We can only hint at the activities on a single sheet of paper, but within the stuff of these archives an even more full story can be told.

On our panel today is, from your left to right:

Liza Kirwin, who is the curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. She received her B.A. in art history from The Johns Hopkins University and her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park. Her doctoral dissertation, “Its All True: Imagining New York’s East Village Art Scene of the 1980s,” won the Carl Bode Prize for Outstanding Dissertation at the University of Maryland and was a national finalist for The Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize (awarded annually by the American Studies Association).

Her articles have appeared in the Archives of American Art Journal, Artforum, Drawing, The Magazine Antiques, American Art, and elsewhere. She is the author of More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (Princeton Architectural Press, 2005); Artists in Their Studios, Images from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (Collins Design, 2007); and With Love: Artists’ Letters and Illustrated Notes (Collins Design, 2008).

Dr. Kirwin has organized numerous exhibitions of archival material and manages the Archives’ special collecting initiatives and oral history program. Today she will talk about the Archives’ collections plan and the records of alternative spaces at the Archives of American Art.

To Liza's left is Milan R. Hughston. Before assuming his duties as Chief of Library and Museum Archives at The Museum of Modern Art in September 1999, Milan was a librarian at the Amon Carter Museum from 1979 to 1999. During that time, he published comprehensive bibliographies in Museum publications, including Thomas Eakins (1996), the photography collection catalogue (1993), Eliot Porter (1989), and Laura Gilpin (1986). While at MoMA, he has devoted his energies to planning and coordinating the newly-opened research facilities in Manhattan and Queens. He also established, with May Castleberry, a new program called the Library Council, founded to promote the research resources of MoMA through a membership program and publications of artist books in a series called Contemporary Editions. He is also a founding member of the New York Art Resources Consortium, which coordinates collaborative projects between the research libraries of MoMA, the Frick Collection, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has also been a frequent speaker on library topics and museum collections at professional conferences, including the Art Libraries Society of North America, College Art Association, Western History Association, and the American Association of Museums. He has also taken leadership roles in the Art Libraries Society of North America and its Texas chapter and served as Chair of the Art and Architecture Group of the Research Libraries Group.

A native of Clarksville, Texas he received his Bachelor of Journalism and Master of Library Science degrees from The University of Texas at Austin. In 1978/1979, he was the recipient of a Rotary International Scholarship and studied at the University of Manchester, England, post-graduate program in Art Gallery and Museum Studies.

To Milan's left is John Tain. Before coming to the Getty Research Institute as an associate curator, John lived in Paris, where he researched his dissertation project on Matisse and the Avant-Garde, and also taught at the University of California's Study Center there. In 2006-2007, he served as a pre-doctoral fellow in art history at Kenyon College.

At the GRI, he works with modern and contemporary archives and manuscripts, and, among other projects is also working to help expand its holdings in artist's books and photobooks.

Finally, to John's left, is Jean-Noël Herlin. Born in France, Jean-Noël studied philosophy in Germany and law in Paris before moving to New York in 1965. He has been active in the art world since 1970 as the leading antiquarian bookseller in 20th-Century avant-garde publications until closing his shop in 1987, and since then as an appraiser, curator and writer. His ongoing archive project was begun in 1973. He had is first solo exhibition in 2007. His essay "Ephemera junk mail mon amour," appeared in the September-October 2007 issue of Art on Paper.

Our first presenter is Liza Kirwin:

Liza Kirwin: For more than 50 years, the Archives of American Art has provided researchers worldwide with access to the largest collection of primary source materials documenting the history of the visual arts in America.

We seek records, routine and unusual, whose stories and meanings are rich and complex, that have inherent value as originals, and that both reflect and challenge conventional ideas about art. We require these records as evidence.

Our collections, including some 16 million items, form the foundation for research, scholarship, publications, exhibitions, public programs, and outreach.

We have our own piece of real estate in the newly renovated Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. This is the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery of the Archives of American Art where we have three new exhibitions each year drawn from our holdings.

We have an active publications program. On the left is our newly re-designed Journal that appears twice a year and recent books about the Archives’ collections. We sponsor public events to raise awareness of the value of primary sources.

We host research fellows and we sponsor symposia and lectures. This is a symposium on the subject of artists’ studios that we co-sponsored with CUNY last fall.

Our most important connection to our audience is through our website at In 2005 the Archives received a multi-million dollar grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to digitize a substantial cross-section of our holdings. At the end of this six-year project we will have 1.6 million digital files available online.

While there is still a lot of paper out there, collecting in the current moment—that is, in the digital age—is becoming more and more problematic. We will always have the pressures of space, time, and resources, but new media and technologies are challenging conventional notions of what an archive is.

What does it mean to collect the papers of an artist whose works are not tangible things but transitory events?

What are the technical challenges of archiving records that are born digital, and even, what is the place of “archival” research in the historical study of contemporary art?

I don’t have the answers. We consider these questions on a case-by-case basis as we observe and hopefully contribute to the development of best practices in the archival field.

Archives are living things. Culture is a process and we are always adapting.

What we have done to sharpen our thinking about the future is to develop a collections plan. We have identified eight themes as a way of conceptualizing the history of American art history. This sets out a road map for our future collecting.

Art Historiography

By collecting the papers of art historians and art writers who have transformed the field, we seek to document the “history of the history” of art.

The Art Market

We seek to obtain the records of major art galleries (those that have helped define movements or trends in American art) and the personal papers of significant art dealers and collectors.

The Archives recently acquired the records of the Leo Castelli Gallery totaling more than 400 linear feet of primary sources material. Without question, the Castelli archive is one of the richest resources for the study of art produced in the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Art Material and Techniques

We collect the records of paint manufacturers, frame makers, art instructors and even the records of conservators when they are critical for provenance research or understanding artistic practices and innovation.

Art Movements and Schools

We collect the papers of artists who represent the movement at its apex, or we seek the records of galleries that were influential in promoting the movement, and the papers of art historians and critics whose influence and interpretation defined the movement.


Whether an art colony, a neighborhood, an artists’ cooperative, or the community of artists working within a particular medium or following a common manifesto, artistic communities play a large role in supporting, influencing, and inspiring an artist and his or her work. We seek records that document these organizations and how they evolve and intersect with the art world. Collections falling under this category will focus mainly on the conduct of the organization, its meetings, functions, events and administration.

Lives of American Artists

Primary sources enrich our understanding of the artist’s biography, providing firm dates, locations, and vivid details of his or her career. Understanding an artist’s childhood, artistic training, and other life experiences provides a meaningful context for the artist’s work. We seek collections of personal papers that are full and complete and that speak to all aspects of an artist’s life.


Throughout the history of art, patronage, in its many forms, has played an integral role in the life of the artist. The Archives collects records and papers relating to both institutional and government patronage and individual sponsorship that offer the richest documentation and the best opportunities for revealing the effect of patronage on the American art world.

Reception and Influence of the art of other cultures in the United States

The Archives’ scope may include the papers of non-American artists working in the United States. A global perspective is captured through travel diaries, correspondence, critical writings, and source material, among other documents.

Brief discussion of three examples of the records of alternative spaces at the Archives of American Art: Woman’s Building Records, 1973-1991; The Alternative Museum, New York, est. 1975; and the Museum of Temporary Art (MOTA), Washington, D.C., 1974-1982.

Woman’s Building Records, 1973-1991.
The organization played a key role as an alternative space for women artists energized by the feminist movement in the 1970s. The records document the ways in which feminist theory shaped the Building's founding core mission and goals to provide support and opportunities for women artists. During its eighteen year history, the Building served as an education center and a public gallery space for women artists in Los Angeles and southern California; the records reflect both functions of the Building's activities.

The Administrative Files series documents the daily operations of the Building, with particular emphasis on management policies, budget planning, history, cooperative relationships with outside art organizations and galleries, special building-wide programs, and relocation planning.

The Alternative Museum, New York, est. 1975.

The Alternative Museum, also known as The Alternative Center For International Arts Inc., was founded as an alternative exhibition space. In 2000, The Alternative Museum became an internet-based museum and currently only displays virtual exhibitions. The collection includes the Board of Director's files, printed material, writings, correspondence, newsletters, photographs and slides, and miscellany regarding the foundation and history of The Alternative Museum in New York. Printed material includes exhibition announcements, press releases, reviews, catalogs, calendars of events, photocopies of exhibition press clippings as well as material regarding music events and an annual music series.

Museum of Temporary Art (MOTA), Washington, D.C., 1974-1982.
An artist-run alternative space founded in Washington, D.C. in 1974, MOTA fostered contemporary art, and focused on the melding of literary and visual art. It thrived on its connection to an international network of correspondence artists and other alternative spaces. Included are administrative files; MOTA's archive of correspondence art, artists' books, and other small-press art publications; publications of MOTA including catalogs, its newsletter "Art Ink," and "MOTA" (Museum of Temporary Art Magazine); photographs and slides of exhibitions and events; and audio recordings.

David Platkzer: Our next presenter is Milan Hughston.

Milan Hughston: Good afternoon. MoMA’s collections tell the story of modern and contemporary art, not only through our exhibition program but also through our research resources in a kind of parallel track of collecting, exhibiting, and programs that promote the library and the archives. Now, collecting the avant-garde has built-in challenges and opportunities by virtue of the physical and intellectual nature of the subject, and I’d like to paraphrase Martha Wilson’s comment as founder of Franklin Furnace when she said of artists’ books, “Getting the books was never a problem. Taking care of them was.” Well, I’d like to propose that getting avant-garde material hasn’t been a big problem, but taking care of it is. But I think the rewards are great when you do it properly.
First of all, how have we acquired our avant-garde material? So, let me give you a brief history of the development of research resources at MoMA. We were founded in 1929, and it’s founding director, Alfred Barr, recognized that publications and research should compliment exhibitions. And as a result, what started as a small curatorial collection was more formally established as a library in 1932. And in those days, a library was a convenient place to put anything that was deemed of enduring value, such as letter, files, and documentary photographs. And this kind of situation was certainly not unique to MoMA, and indeed the story of most museum libraries follows this track. And as the collections became richer in content, the obligation to share them with a larger world than museum staff became a goal.
Now, MoMA’s library is often billed as the library of record for modern and contemporary art, especially for its comprehensive collections of monographs, exhibition catalogues, and rare journals. But I do want to highlight two areas where materials documenting the avant-garde are particularly rich and contain material not found in any other research library. I’m showing you a photograph of our new building here. I’ll talk a little bit about it in just a moment.

First, our vertical file collections contain up to 50,000 files on individual artists and contain a wealth of ephemeral materials such as press releases, announcements, obituaries, and clippings. And I’m seeing many researchers finding nuggets of information there that really don’t exist anyplace else. And by attempting to keep pretty much what comes to us through the door or through the mail, we provide a unique resource for many avant-garde artists.

Second, our artist book collection, which numbers close to 15,000, also provides a window to avant-garde documentation and artistic output, particularly since the early 60s. In fact, I like to point out that it was through the artists’ book collection that many now prominent artists first entered MoMA before artwork was collected for the curatorial departments. And these include Dieter Rot, Kiki Smith, and Roni Horn, just to name three. And we aggressively add to this collection, and there looks to be no slowdown in avant-garde artists’ interest in the artist book format. And this material has been cataloged and made available through our online system DADABASE since the mid-90s.

But archival material tended to remain somewhat undiscovered in the museum environment, since the material was often distributed all over the museum, rather than centralized in a library. Records could be found in the director’s office, general counsel, registrar, curatorial departments, and of course, the library. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that museum archives as departments became established in several museums including MoMA.

When our archives was officially founded in 1989, it provided the opportunity to consolidate under one unit, all records deemed of enduring value. And that certainly included material relating to the avant-garde, whether it was Impressionists, Ashcan artists, the Armory Show, DADA and surrealists, all the way up to Fluxus and happenings in the East Village art movement.

The value of that material at MoMA was acknowledged in the planning of our new ‘campus’ beginning in the mid-1990s. Yoshio Taniguchi’s winning design, in fact, featured an education and research wing as a direct counterpart to the gallery building, creating a kind of dialogue across the MoMA sculpture garden. And I think it’s indeed rare that a museum’s research and educational mission is so visible. And I think you’ll agree, it’s a beautiful and tangible salute to our really strong collections.

Now, by the time we opened that building in November 2006, we had managed to consolidate archival record groups from all across the institution, and now we are dealing with the consequences of that rapid growth, managing access to over 4,200 linear feet. Use of the archives, especially since most of the finding aids were placed online in January 2007, has sky rocketed. And as you can see, our public reading rooms are indeed beautiful and tranquil places to do work, so our staff and public are reaping the benefits. This is the archive’s reading room here.

Our augmented space and ambitions have led us to selectively add new material to our already rich holdings in the archives. That is, we’ve started collecting material created outside the walls of MoMA. However, we really only consider material that has a direct link to the Museum and its role in modern and contemporary art. But frankly, that’s a pretty broad mandate. Some examples of recent acquisitions which reflect this expanded mandate include the archives of Avalanche magazine; we were just given 26 notebooks documenting Vito Acconci performances and artwork; we have the Richard Bellamy papers, who was an early gallerist and often the first dealer to show a number of artists like George Segal and Claes Oldenberg. We have the papers of Calvin Tomkins, a well-known writer for The New Yorker. And we were also just promised the Paul Rosenberg Gallery papers, which will be an incredible collection that documented that important gallery from before the war in Paris and then after his relocation to New York after the war.

With the exception of the Rosenberg archive, these new acquisitions reflect our interest in art from the 1960s to the present. Most of you will be familiar with Avalanche magazine and Vito Acconci. And I think those collections celebrate the joys and dilemmas of collecting the avant-garde. They contain all matter of formats: photographs and negatives, sound recordings, and posters, which indeed create such a challenge to be able to maintain and provide access to them.

Avant-garde documentation is inherently problematic since it was usually produced using the cheapest materials: newsprint, low-grade audio tapes, mail art, posters, etc.At MoMA we’re lucky enough to have access to our superb conservation department, which has long had specialists devoted to every medium, plus a conservation scientist when we don’t even know what medium we’re dealing with. In addition, we’ve recently added a media conservator, so he will play a key role in helping us preserve this fugitive information.

Now, it’s certainly not enough to just acquire, process, and house the collections. We need to promote their use as well. Online finding aids and our online library catalog ensure that users know what we have or don’t have well in advance of their visit. And now that we have the new reading rooms, we’re in good shape, certainly from the researcher’s standpoint. But we’ve done some outreach in what we think are creative ways to insure that our community knows what we have. Just so -- some more examples of some of the Avalanche archive materials and Vito Acconci notes, annotated. And William (Wegman’s) drawing for a piece. And then finally holiday cards sent out by the Wegmans.

Now, one good example is the ongoing series featuring archival material in the twice-yearly publication, Esopus. The publisher and editor of the magazine expressed interest in archival material so I suggested that he work with our Museum Archives to feature something from the museum archives in each issue. The feature is called, “Modern Artifacts,” and it’s been a great way to promote undiscovered avant-garde material in the archives. We’re up to three features over the last year and a half, and the first was an article featuring all of the various iterations of Alfred Barr’s famous charts outlining the development of modern art. I think you’re familiar with the final version, but all of the various drafts are just as fascinating, and they’re lovingly reproduced in the magazine.

Now the second was a feature showing the correspondence between long-time MoMA curator and advocate of contemporary artists Dorothy Miller and James Lee Byers, an endlessly fascinating conceptual artist. And again, this series lovingly reproduces the wonderful letters that were received by Dorothy Miller from James Lee Byers.

And most recently Museum Archivist Michelle Elligott brought to light documents telling the story of an ambitious but unrealized exhibition at MoMA conceived to celebrate the glories of democracy in the face of Nazi and fascist regimes in Europe before our advent into World War II. And this is the feature in the current issue; it’s called, “Tentative and Confidential.” This is just also a good image of the archival storage at MoMA. But this was a fascinating, actually short-lived but very ambitious project to fill the entire MoMA sculpture garden with a building that was actually going to be bigger than the actual museum. And we -- the museum had contracted with Leslie Cheek, then director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Lewis Mumford, who was well-known cultural historian at the time, to come up with this anti-fascist exhibition. And it’s not that the museum objected to the subject matter, but the cost for the project would have been astronomical, and so they had to pull the plug on it. This was all going on in the summer of 1940. But again, this is beautifully documented in Esopus magazine.

Just out of curiosity, how many of you are familiar with that journal? I promised I would certainly plug it here because it’s a beautiful publication that not only celebrates contemporary art, but also has this interest in the archival document.

When the new gallery building opened in 2004, it also coincided with the 75th anniversary of MoMA, and to celebrate that we published a picture album portraying the history of MoMA’s first 75 years through photographs and documents from the Museum Archives. Michelle Elligott and long-time MoMA editor Harriet Bee combed through thousands of photographs and documents to select several hundred images which tell the story of the Museum, and by extension, the history of modern and contemporary art in America. This publication, called Art in Our Time, remains a really valuable resource and is a great example of how museum’s archives can be mined for information.

The bulk of the photographs came from the museum’s extensive photo archives, and I’m pleased to report that over 23,000 of them are being digitized by ARTstor for inclusion on their site. Digitization also plays a role in bringing to life MoMA publications such as our MoMA Bulletin, which played a key role in promoting the collections and programs from 1933 to 2002, and the first 30 years can now be found in JSTOR, with the rest following sometime this spring.

Now our new space in the Cullman building also allows us to exhibit material from the library and archives on an ongoing basis. We usually have four to five exhibitions a year, and two of the most recent have included an exhibition on James Lee Byers. We used the article as an excuse to kind of animate the material featured in Esopus magazine. It’s a beautiful exhibition. And currently, just for a few more days we have an exhibition from the Richard Bellamy archival material as well.

In addition, we’ve been partnering with the museum’s education department on a number of panels and presentations throughout the year. And again, our new space allows us to not only talk about research resources in a formal lecture environment, but also to adjourn upstairs to the library and archives reading rooms for closer looks at the material, usually accompanied by a glass of wine. This has been a really effective way to promote our resources and share the collections.

So in conclusion, I hope you’ll agree that these efforts are good examples of how one takes advantage, not only of the richness of collections, but also a physical environment conducive to sharing. Avant-garde materials are often ephemeral in nature, so we have made a commitment to bring them to life in several ways. But I think we rely on you, our constituents, to help us discover them in new and different ways. Thank you.

David Platzker: Our next presenter is John Tain, from the Getty Research Institute.

John Tain: I’m here to talk about the Special Collections of the Getty Research Institute. First, I wanted to briefly introduce the Getty Research Institute, and also to show you some pictures of it. Today, the GRI is one of four programs that make up the Getty Trust (others being the Museum, the Foundation, and the Conservation Institute). At its origin, the Research Institute began as the auxiliary library for curators at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Since then, it has grown into its own fully formed, full-fledged autonomous institution dedicated to the study of the history of art and the humanities. [Here you see a view of the outside. And here is one of the entrance. And the stacks with carrels in the background.]
Unlike MoMA or the Archives of American Art, the Research Institute is not limited to a specific region or a specific period, which gives us a certain freedom in terms of how we collect and what we collect. Thus, when it comes to the twentieth century, our holdings range from the papers of El Lissitzky, one of the leading artists of the Russian avant-garde, to the photo archive of Julius Shulman, a commercial photographer whose vast archive constitutes a comprehensive visual record of the evolution of Los Angeles architecture in the past century. But though it operates with fairly broad parameters, the Research Institute nevertheless does have specific concentrations. I want to outline one of those concentrations by briefly discussing the Jean Brown archive, which forms the nucleus of our holding in contemporary art, and the ways that this particular holding has influenced our collecting. Doing so will also take on the subject of this panel: the institutional collecting of the avant-garde.

Jean Brown was born in 1911, a librarian by profession who, like many others of her generation, was inspired by Robert Motherwell’s anthology, the Dada Painters and Poets (1951), and began collecting works and documentation related to the Dada and Surrealist movements relatively soon after. [Here you see one of the Marcel Duchamp boîtes she owned.] She also collected the work related to or inspired by Dada and Surrealism, in the process developing relationships with artists such as George Maciunas [one on the right is his Fluxkit from 1965], Wolf Vostell [Dé-coll/age Happenings, 1966] and Claes Oldenburg [False Food Selection, 1965]. The Getty acquired this collection in 1988/89, and that in some ways defined our collection development and our direction. Movements and practices heavily represented in Jean Brown’s collection, such as Fluxus, mail art, and concrete poetry are all self defined against or apart from the mainstream modernist movement. They also developed outside the standard gallery system, relying instead on their own networks for distribution and dissemination. It is in that spirit that we acquired the papers of Allan Kaprow, the artist-creator of the happening, in 1998; Carolee Schneemann, which came to the Getty in 1995; and, most recently, Yvonne Rainer. [And here you see pages from Rainer’s dream log, I think in ’81: the text itself is actually quite interesting.] And also David Tudor’s archive, the bulk of which we acquired in 1994 and 1998.

So you can get a sense from these four examples that the artists represented at the Research Institute are from individuals who have expanded the definition of what an artist is, and in the case of Tudor, who might not necessarily even be considered one by traditional criteria. But precisely because these were individuals who pushed at the borders of art, and thus were important to avant-garde movements of their period, they could be seen as expanding out from the movements represented in the Jean Brown archive.

In addition to artists’ papers, we also have related kinds of archives. Perhaps the most obvious are galleries archives, for which Europe is best represented in our holdings: we recently acquired the papers of the Schmela Gallery, which worked with Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana, among other artists of the sixties and seventies, as well the gallery of Paul Maenz, which showed many conceptualist and neo-expressionist artists, such as Hans Haacke, Robert Barry, and Anselm Kiefer. In a related vein, we also have the papers of the Experiments in Art and Technology program, co-founded by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Kluver in 1967 to encourage collaboration between artists and engineers. [Here you see a collection of the documents in their collection.] And because we have the papers of Marcia Tucker, who was a curator at the Whitney Museum before more famously going on to found the New Museum in New York, we also have documentation related to both institutions in our vaults. Finally, no avant-garde is complete without its critics, and our holdings in this regard, with the papers of Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Barbara Rose, and Lawrence Alloway, among them, are more than germane to any study of the artistic avant-garde in the post-war years.*
In what preceded, I have indicated some of the ways our collection has expanded from the Jean Brown Collection. I now want to talk briefly about where I think we’re going or where we might possibly be going. One way of thinking about where to take the collection is to look at how it gets used. In the general perception, the Getty Research Institute is considered a scholarly institution, a resource for chiefly university professors, art history students, and other interested scholars. Certainly, the GRI is that: it tries to provide the best environment possible for specialized study in the visual arts, and even offers fellowships for extended stays of up to a year, and library grants for shorter periods. (By the way, we have a website [], where information on our grants, as well the online catalogue for the general library collection and finding aids for the special collections are available for anyone who wants to browse. And although we are not quite as advanced as the Archives of American Art in terms of digitizing, we do make available online versions of some of our exhibitions.)
But we also work in non-academic, or non-university, contexts. To take museum exhibitions as an example, we recently acquired the Long Beach Museum of Art’s video collection, which numbers thousands of pieces, and a selection of them will be on display in a large-scale exhibition at the Getty Museum starting in late March. And in relation to Allan Kaprow, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles will be hosting a traveling exhibition this spring of his work that originated with the Haus der Kunst in Münich, based heavily on material from the Kaprow papers at the GRI. So working not only with scholars but also with museums and curators is one direction that we are taking. [Here you see a few photos related to Kaprow’s piece, Household. In the image on the top left, Allan Kaprow is giving a lecture on the piece, while in the right image, men are building a tower, and in the lower left, women are licking jam off a car, as part of the happening.]

Scholars and curators thus form part of our patron group, and, ideally, artists as well: I think the inclusion of artists is pertinent to answering the questions of what it means to be collecting the avant-garde and how the untamed gets tamed. Because one way of trying to keep the untamed from becoming tame when it comes to the avant-garde is precisely to keep things moving by making them somehow available to artists. This might mean having artists revisit their own archives. [In this case, this is Yvonne Rainer restaging a performance of an earlier work at the Getty.] But there is also great potential in working with younger artists, many of whom today are precisely interested in historical archives as a resource, as a media even, for their own work. I’m thinking of the recreation of Allan Kaprow’s “18 Happenings in 6 Parts,” which was re-created at the Haus der Kunst, and then produced by Deitch Studios as part of the Performa Biennial in New York.

Another way of keeping things moving, so to speak, is to be constantly thinking and rethinking geography. In one direction, the Getty is becoming more and more involved with the work of local artists, understood as both Los Angeles and the West Coast more broadly. For instance, we recently acquired the papers of the Jan Baum Gallery, who briefly represented Chris Burden, and, over a longer period, Betye, Lezley, and Alison Saar. I bring up the Saars because the Jan Baum Gallery archive entered the Getty just in time for the Kara Walker exhibition, which will be opening at the Hammer Museum, and perhaps as some of you know, the dialogue or debate between Saar and Walker is a fraught, but interesting one.

But we are also expanding globally (and this takes the question of geography in the other direction). Recently we had the Art/Anti-Art/Non-Art exhibition, which highlighted our now growing collections in postwar Japanese art. And we are thinking how best to represent modern and contemporary art as a global or international phenomenon, and not just as something from Europe and the Americas.

This may seem like taking the Getty Research Institute very far afield from the original shape of the collection as embodied by the Jean Brown archives. But in some ways it actually returns us full-circle to that archive, since Jean Brown’s collection not only housed work by Wolf Vostell and other Western European artists, but was home to works by Yoko Ono, Shigeko Kubota, Nam June Paik, and other artists from Asia. Similarly, the GRI may have the papers of Fluxus co-founder Robert Watts, but it also possesses the papers of David Lamelas, the Argentinean-born conceptualist, as well as specific holdings by other Latin American artists such as Vincente Huidobro. The already international scope of Jean Brown’s collection is a reminder that this idea of globalization or internationalization is not a really new idea at all. It has been one that has been inherent to the avant-garde all along, and I think it’s something that’s worth developing and that we are developing. Anyway, this is briefly some of the highlights from out collection, and I’d be happy to talk with people during the Q&A and after. Thanks.
David Platzker: Our final presenter is Jean-Noël Herlin.
Jean-Noël Herlin: Thank you, David. Good afternoon. Not having a titled affiliation with any organization, I will begin by explaining why David invited me to be on this panel.

In 1972, I opened an antiquarian bookshop specializing in primary sources and documentary publications in 20th century visual and performing arts with an emphasis on experimental activities. A year later, a retiring member of the Painting and Sculpture Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, whose library I was buying, asked me on my way out and really as an afterthought, if I would take along the box of her artists' exhibition announcements files. On a hunch, I did. They turned out to have no resale value to speak of. However, I was not about to throw them out.

Those of you who have had to use library vertical files understand the reasons that dictate the preservations of these mailers. Whatever other value they might have, these "items frequently unknown or overlooked" constitute "a category in the literature of art that is indispensable to research in modern art," to quote from a 1982 letter from Bernard Karpel, the first and long-time librarian of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Most exhibition mailers are nowadays reduced to postcards, illustrated or not, giving the who, what, where, month and day of an event, too often still omitting the year. Until the late 1950's, however, they often included a checklist and/or an artist's statement and/or selected excerpts from published comments. It is with that in mind that I decided to keep that box, which became the seed of the archiving project that brings me here.

With no overall plan or grand design, I felt obscurely but forcefully driven by the art historical necessity of entering these items in the bibliographic record, from which they are usually absent. In this respect, I recommend as a model of bibliographic integrity the catalogue of the exhibition Happening & Fluxus at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in 1970. It consists of a chrono-bibliography where the printed matter such as script, poster, invitation, program or review issued in conjunction with an event is identified by a code. Moreover, I was moved in my decision by the personal core belief that it is a responsibility and function of antiquarian booksellers to be keepers and transmitters of cultural memories.

Now, before getting into the how and evolving nature of my project, I can't resist sharing with you an anecdote about the late Lee Lozano. In the early 1970s, to expand the definition and practice of sculpture, this probing artist dumped a boxful of exhibition announcements from a window of her SoHo loft in New York, creating an ephemeral, kinetic and aleatory piece that would have brought a beatific smile of approval to John Cage's face. Indeed, her gesture was not as flippant as it might sound. While looking back to Pollock's drip paintings, it anticipates Andy Goldsworthy's throws of sticks, slates and leaves of the 1980's and the art world systems critique by artists of the same decade when equating exhibition mailers to detritus.

As I have indicated earlier, my archiving was very much open-ended. The archiving of painting and sculpture exhibition mailers proved restrictive. Photography was becoming seriously and widely collected, video was in its teen-age years, performance art was being re-imagined, artists were engaging in collaborations or organizing in activist groups, to name a few of the evolutions taking place in the 1970s, a decade pointedly called "pluralist" by Corinne Robbins. My bookshop gave me access to an increasing number and variety of material. Although I have been the recipient of several generous gifts, most of this material has been acquired by purchase or trade. Affordability and "thinness" are my only criteria of inclusion.

From an accidental occurrence, my archiving evolved by circumstances rather than by deliberate and active pursuit. I like to think of it as an archive trouvée, an archive found while running a bookshop that included during its last two years a one-wall gallery. I closed in 1987 and phased out my activity as a bookseller in order to make a living as an appraiser. With more time at my disposal, and a growing number of sources, I began to add research material to the strictly documentary items I had been assembling.

Fast forwarding to the present, my project counts some 300,000 documents stored in some 400 so-called banker's boxes. It consists now primarily of exhibition announcements, press releases and posters. It also includes exhibition catalogues (thin ones), checklists, a few periodicals, exhibition and performance schedules, résumés, press clippings of writings by and interviews with artists, articles and reviews, photographs, transparencies and slides, installation views, a sprinkling of mail art works, drawings, prints, photographs, artists' books (again, thin ones), postcards, stickers, pins, buttons, coins, as well as a few manuscripts and typescripts, and some correspondence.

Here I want to open a parenthesis and call your attention to press releases. Mailed on average to 200 recipients and usually discarded after usage, they are a printed source of art history that is absent from most archives. They have evolved from sheets of factual information into detailed descriptive paragraphs into, more recently, 1000-word essays by curators, presumably attracted by the possibility of publicizing their writings free of the time, space and editorial constraints of the printed media. My own inquiry with gallerists supports the notion that the press release for a first solo exhibition is usually distilled from conversations with, or written by, the artist, credited or not. And of course, we know the press releases Robert Smithson wrote for the Dwan Gallery, and those authored by Lucy Lippard.

In addition to material on painting and sculpture, my archive project also includes architecture and design, dance, music and theater, photography and film, graffiti, cartooning, comic art, animation, as well as material relating to works in metal, glass and fabric. It is organized in three groups. The first contains material on and/or by individual and collaborating artists, like Abramović and Ulay, or Elmgreen and Dragset, as well as groups like the Living Theater or the Guerilla Art Action Group. This material is arranged alphabetically by name and chronologically within each file. I have chosen to organize the material pertaining to group events in two alphabets: the first, out of interest in the semiotics of exhibition titles, under the title's first word. It is an organization that goes some distance towards constituting a subject index. In the absence of titles, the material on group events is filed under the name of the venue or sponsoring institution. Since the closing of my shop, the expansion of my project has led me to cross-reference and index the material pertaining to group events, thus adding to its usefulness for research. As it stands today, it is a personal, egalitarian and inclusive, or, in Erwin Panofsky's term, monist account of creativity in the visual and performing arts internationally from the middle of the 20th century to the present. Creativity is the key word here. To put it differently, creativity is the quality shared by Yayoi Kusama's 1966 button Love Forever, Tadeusz Kantor's script for his 1967 Panoramic Sea Happening, Bruce Nauman's 1975 The Consummate Mask of Rock or Guerilla Girls posters.

It is a legitimate question to ask if I have not expanded the fields of my archiving at the expense of depth in any. The question always brings to my mind the clenched way in which the North Vietnamese general Giap expressed in military terms the face-off between generalist and specialist. It goes like this: When the enemy gains ground, it disperses its forces, when the enemy concentrates its forces, it loses ground. The choice I made in 1973 owes not only to circumstance but just as much to personal politics and temperament. On the positive side, I can say that my project, now in its 36th year, has established itself as a more than serviceable resource. The historians, curators and students who have perused it for the purpose of fact-checking, reproduction, exhibition or other have usually found what they were looking for. Often, they have discovered documents previously unknown to them. When it comes to archives, my motto is less is less and more is more, and more is better, particularly when an increasing amount of information is entrusted to the short-lived technologies of the virtual world. If I am passionate about this subject — and it has taken passion to sustain my commitment — it is because, collectively, archives are a repository of humankind's cultural DNA, as necessary as the preservation of endangered languages or bio-diversity. In this regard, my project is an act of memorialization.

For my part, the use of the word "taming" in the title of this panel, "Collecting the Avant-Garde: The Institutional Perspective—Taming the Untame," has consisted in keeping up with, processing and filing an ever-increasing flow of material. Call it, as David suggested when introducing me, untamed archiving. To summarize, my project reflects the appearance of new media, new art-producing practices, globalization, the blurring of lines between high and low, the devaluation of originality and quality as criteria of appreciation, and the obsolescence of traditional typologies. Through fortuitousness of timing, it includes many ephemeral documents relating to some of the artists whose papers and personal archives have been purchased by, or donated to, the institutions represented at this table. Since avant-garde is the focus of this panel, I will conclude with a few comments on the subject.

Whereas I lean toward inclusiveness in other domains, I favor restrictive definitions. If avant-garde, in the modern acceptance of the term, defines a practice implying a leap that could not have been imagined, a departure so radical that it fits no existing category, Fluxus and conceptual art represents in my view the last expressions to date of an avant-garde spirit and activity. Both were originally dismissed as non-art, the first as jocular and a little lunatic, the second as too intellectual, too European. Indeed, the degree of resistance to acceptance is the measure of the way avant-garde artists rewrite the rules of the game.

My perception of works produced since the mid-1970s is that they play variations on themes given earlier. I am not saying this disparagingly for in art as in music, it is in variations that creative imagination manifests itself. Case in point: Gordon Matta-Clark's stunning amplification on Lucio Fontana. What I am saying is that what passes today as avant-garde is novelty. New media do not beget avant-gardes, ideas do: Ideas about what can be art. Frankly, I see more derrière than avant-garde in Jeff Koons' and Cicciolina's 3-dimensional copulations. I am reminded of Michael Sonnabend, Ileana's husband, who candidly mused in my shop in the mid-1980s: "We're like the circus, showing off our new acts." Not surprisingly, it is at Sonnabend's that Koons' sculptures Made in Heaven were first exhibited in 1991.

The avant-garde is today tamed, collected, canonized and fodder for the media, as David has demonstrated in the case of Edward Ruscha's Twentysix Gasoline Stations, which leads me to suggest that the desire of institutions for the avant-garde ultimately signals their taming by the avant-garde.

David Platzker: I want to add a couple of details about Jean-Noel’s collection. One is that he’s not digitized, he’s not online, he’s not computer literate, which is unfortunate. But he does have a very nice book detailing his archive. Maybe you can hold up the copy of that. The archive consists of files, standard office files, which have been meticulously cross-referenced containing ephemera documenting artists’ galleries, institutions -- how many artists are in there?

And I just want to give you a sense since you’ve seen pictures of installations of each of the other institutions holdings, this is Jean-Noel’s institution -- see if I can get the image up here. So that’s him in his archive. This is just a reference library which is entirely separate from the materials that he holds.

When someone calls me up -- my function both as AS-AP as well as a private dealer in archival materials and books, people call me up asking me where can they find something, and my natural inclination is first to call MoMA and second to call Jean-Noel. He’s open by appointment only. If you call him up and you have a question about something, he has no need to consult a database; he’ll tell you off the top of his head whether or not it’s worth your effort to visit him on the Upper East Side to peruse his file.

I just wanted to ask questions to the panelists first about access. And all of you three have your materials online, but what about getting public access to the physical material?

Liza Kirwin: Any collection that is not microfilmed (inaudible) more research in Washington office, just make an appointment and we’ll bring the originals out.

David Platzker: you do -- all three of you also have material that is limited access or non-accessible?

Liza Kirwin: Well, yes. There are some cases where dealers place restrictions on the collections and you may have to receive a letter of permission from the donor to gain access to the collection or in publish from it. But actually very small percentage of our collections is restricted.

Milan Hughston: That’s certainly similar to MoMA as well. Unprocessed material is not available usually. And unfortunately we do have a rather large backlog as a result of all the consolidation we’ve done in the last few years, but we are making progress in making that material accessible and available. But yes, we are open by appointment five days a week depending on the material. If it’s in Queens, where we still maintain that facility as well as the spaces in midtown.

John Tain: We make our material available to the public. Anyone can make an appointment to consult the Special Collections material, which, so long as it has been processed, is generally accessible. We also offer fellowships to scholars at both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral levels to come and work on specific parts of the collection as well as library grants for more punctual visits ranging from a few days to a few months. People of all kinds work on different parts of the collection.

David Platzker: Jean-Noel, do you want to talk about access to your collection?

Jean-Noel Herlin: (inaudible) I’m very open to it. Only thing to do is to call me.

David Platzker: Any questions from the audience? Any questions for each other among the panelists?

[Audience Member 1]: It would seem that you all have very similar projects and I was wondering how you might think about linking your archives?

Milan Hughston: One part that we didn’t talk about that was a very big part of what we do is oral histories, and I know that at MoMA we are looking to kind of revitalize what was a pretty active program at one point, and that’s one area I think that we could be part of a larger cooperative project….

* The Archives of American Art serves as a home for part of the Clement Greenberg archive.