The Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles has acquired the private collection of Lee Kaplan, a local bookseller who has amassed an extensive archive of eclectic published materials and ephemera on black artists.
“Covering the gamut from out-of-print catalogs published by long-defunct galleries to recent Los Angeles artist zines, this significant acquisition presents a unique opportunity for the library to collect deeply and broadly about black visual culture from a rich variety of disparate. sources,” said Simone Fujita, the Getty’s first bibliographer on African-American art.
Kaplan and his wife, Whitney, opened Arcana: Books on the Arts in a one-bedroom apartment on Westwood Boulevard in 1984. Aided by his skills as a bookseller, he sourced materials from his extensive network of museums and of galleries, curators and artists. , art collectors and other dealers, and scholars. Slowly, it became one of the city’s main resources of visual culture for African American artists and the black diaspora, which was then still shunned by most institutional libraries.
According to the Getty, Kaplan’s collection has some 3,5000 objects, including exhibition posters, pamphlets, monographs and black-run art publications, among other ephemera, dating from the 1930s to the present.
“We connected artists and photographers with publishers and gallery owners who had an impact on their careers, books in the hands of designers who informed their production, etc. Kaplan said in a 2020 interview. “The cultural butterfly effect of this outreach to the world cannot be understated, and that is perhaps what I am most proud of when it comes to Arcana. “
Kaplan’s collection is the latest in a series of significant acquisitions under Getty’s African American Art History Initiative. Since 2018, the institution has added to its holdings the personal archive of the artist Betye Saar and the library of the late Robert Farris Thompson, an eminent scholar of Black Atlantic art and music.
In 2019, the Getty Trust, which administers the GRI, partnered with the Ford Foundation and the Mellon Foundation to purchase the historical archives from Johnson Publishing, the Chicago-based company that owned Ebony and Jet magazines, for $30 million in a week-long auction. The archive, which contained more than 4 million images documenting 20th-century African-American culture, was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute so that it could be made available to the public.
“I am thrilled to have the Whitney and Lee Kaplan Collection on African American Visual Culture at GRI – for many reasons, but primarily because I can imagine the generations of new scholarship this collection will support,” said Mary Miller. , director of the GRI. in a report. “This collection of the past will be the engine of the future.”