Getty snaps up Leavin Gallery ar­chives

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - By Jes­sica Gelt jes­sica.gelt@la­times.com

The Getty Re­search In­sti­tute an­nounced Tues­day that it has ac­quired the com­plete ar­chives of the Margo Leavin Gallery, the inf lu­en­tial Los An­ge­les gallery that rep­re­sented such artists as John Baldessari, Alexis Smith and Wil­liam Leav­itt, among oth­ers, over the years from its open­ing in 1970 un­til it closed in 2013.

The Leavin gallery was known as the go-to place to see cut­ting-edge con­tem­po­rary art from no­table or upand-com­ing artists from New York and Los An­ge­les.

Leavin said in an in­ter- view that she chose the GRI to pre­serve her gallery’s le­gacy be­cause it showed a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in col­lect­ing gallery ar­chives and mak­ing them quickly and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to re­searchers. That, and the fact that Leavin spent her en­tire adult life work­ing in Los An­ge­les.

“I am glad that the fruits of my la­bor will be pre­served, and the doc­u­men­ta­tion — ex­hi­bi­tion pho­tos, prove­nance in­for­ma­tion and four decades of gallery records — will be avail­able to re­searchers, schol­ars and those pre­par­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and cat­a­logues raisonnes work­ing on the artists whom we have shown over the many years,” she wrote later in an email. “In the short time since the ar­chives have been trans­ferred to the Getty, sev­eral cu­ra­tors have al­ready con­sulted them, which means they are al­ready be­ing used as a valu­able re­source.”

Dur­ing its 43-year ex­is­tence, the Margo Leavin Gallery staged more than 500 ex­hi­bi­tions, 400 of which were solo shows. One of the most prom­i­nent fe­male gal­lerists when men ruled the art world, Leavin at first fo­cused on Pop and Min­i­mal­ism be­fore mov­ing on to Con­cep­tu­al­ism — the cat­e­gory with which the gallery is most closely as­so­ci­ated.

The ar­chives in­clude all man­ner of in­ter­est­ing ephemera, in­clud­ing busi­ness deal­ings with big-name artists, his­to­ries of in­stalla- tions, brochures, re­views, slides and pho­to­graphs of artists’ work, cor­re­spon­dence with col­lec­tors, deal­ers and artists, as well as an­no­tated auc­tion cat­a­logs.

There are also more than 80 works on pa­per, of­ten in the form of il­lus­trated let­ters, from artists in­clud­ing Hannah Wilke, H.C. Wester­mann, Billy Al Bengston, Claes Olden­burg, Sher­rie Levine, Felix Gon­za­lez-Tor­res and Andy Warhol.

“You have to re­al­ize this was prior to email and com­put­ers,” Levin said. “In the early days, I got beau­ti­ful let­ters from Levine, notes from Olden­burg, il­lus­trated let­ters from Wester­mann that are just so fab­u­lous. In the early days, artists wrote. Now they pick up the phone or email, which is such a pity.”

The many changes to the way things are done in the art world, par­tic­u­larly the di­min­ish­ing im­por­tance of the gallery show in the In­ter­net era, were largely re­spon­si­ble for Leavin’s de­ci­sion to close her gallery.

Now she hopes her de­ci­sion to do­nate her ar­chives to the Getty will set a prece­dent for other gal­leries.

“So we can pro­vide a good his­tory of the L.A. art scene,” she said. “It’s so im­por­tant.”

Anne Cu­sack

MARGO LEAVIN’S gallery closed in 2013.

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