Preeminent collection of African American art books acquired by Getty

The Getty Research Institute has acquired The Whitney and Lee Kaplan African American Visual Culture Collection. The collection primarily documents Black visual culture in the United States, but also captures the broader context of art of the African diaspora with its inclusion of materials from the Caribbean and Latin America.

“Encyclopedic in its scope, the Kaplan Collection will be foundational in bolstering the Getty Research Institute’s ever-expanding library collections in support of our African American Art History Initiative,” Simone Fujita, Getty Library’s Bibliographer of African American Art, said. “Running the gamut from out-of-print catalogues published by long-defunct galleries to recent zines by Los Angeles artists, this significant acquisition presents a unique opportunity for the Library to collect deeply and broadly on Black visual culture from a rich variety of disparate sources.”

The first bibliographer hired expressly for the Research Institute’s African American Art History Initiative, Fujita has been dedicated to library collection development of print and electronic resources relating to Black artists since starting her role in 2019.

Lee Kaplan, a native Angeleno, established Arcana: Books on the Arts in 1984. Having noticed a significant disparity in published works on African American artists, he began to privately compile his own collection of materials in the late 1980s. With his diligent and keen curation efforts, the Kaplans’ collection has grown to include approximately 3,500 catalogues, magazines, artist’s books, pamphlets, and zines, as well as rare ephemera on African American artists and Black visual culture ranging in date from 1903 to the present.

This library amassed by Lee Kaplan benefits from his expertise as an art bookseller as well as an extensive network of diverse relationships. As a longtime fixture in the art book-collecting world, he was able to carefully curate this collection over an extended period of time, culling materials from a unique array of sources, including publishers, museums and galleries, other book dealers, artists, art collectors, cultural workers, scholars, and curators.

The Kaplan Arcana collection, with its coverage of rare African American art publications, African American history, and African diasporic visual art, provides an important complement to the Getty Research Institute’s ongoing bibliographic and archival acquisitions for the African American Art History Initiative, including the personal archives of artist Betye Saar, the libraries of scholars Robert Farris Thompson and Doran Ross, and the joint acquisitions, with other institutions, of the Johnson Publishing Company and Paul Revere Williams archives.

 The collection will be cataloged over the course of several years and made available to researchers at the Getty Research Institute.

“I’m so excited to have the Whitney and Lee Kaplan African American Visual Culture Collection at the GRI—for so many reasons, but principally because I can imagine the generations of new scholarship that this collection will underpin,” Mary Miller, director of the Getty Research Institute, said.  “This collection of the past will be the engine of the future.”

About Getty

Getty is a leading global arts organization committed to the exhibition, conservation, and understanding of the world’s artistic and cultural heritage. Working collaboratively with partners around the globe, the Getty Foundation, Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute are all dedicated to the greater understanding of the relationships between the world’s many cultures.

The Los Angeles-based J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs share art, knowledge, and resources online at Getty.edu and welcome the public for free at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa.

About the Getty Research Institute and Getty Library

The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and The Getty Library.

The Getty Library—housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier—is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities.

The Getty Library’s special collections include rare books, artists’ journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.

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