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GRI Marks 25 Years of Inquiry into the Visual Arts

September 24, 2007

LOS ANGELES—In 1982, the Getty Research Institute began as a small organization with an enormous mission – nothing less than to “bring together all the resources and activities required to advance understanding of the visual arts in their widest possible significance.” 

Today, as it celebrates its 25th anniversary, the Getty Research Institute has established itself as an unparalleled resource, with one of the world’s largest general art libraries, rare special collections, an international residential scholars program, a well-regarded exhibition program, publications, databases, conferences, and events all designed to fulfill its extraordinary mission.


The Research Library at the Getty Research Institute can trace its origins to a modest library of 2,000 volumes assembled by a curator to help J. Paul Getty develop his collection and build a museum.  By the time the J. Paul Getty Museum opened in Malibu in 1974, that modest library had reached 14,000 volumes, and an archive of study photos had been established alongside it.

By 1982, when the J. Paul Getty Trust was established according to the terms of Mr. Getty’s estate, the general library had grown to 70,000 volumes, and the photo archive contained 100,000 photographs.  Both collections became part of the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, later to become the Getty Research Institute, or GRI.  Initially housed in a bank building in Santa Monica, in 1997 the Getty Research Institute joined the other programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust at the Richard Meier-designed Getty Center in Brentwood.

The general library has now grown to 920,000 volumes and the Photo Study Collection contains approximately two million images. Moreover, the Getty Research Institute has gained a reputation as a rare and wonderful place where scholars can do research in one of the world’s greatest art libraries, alongside some of the world’s most respected artists and intellectuals, in a setting overlooking a Southern California coastline more often associated with celebrities than serious scholarship.


Each year, the GRI hosts dozens of scholars who apply from all over the world.  The Scholars Program has attracted participants as varied as author and historian Mike Davis (City of Quartz), architect Rem Koolhaas, and the French artist Orlan, known for using her body as a canvas.  The scholars are not required to produce anything during their year, but they focus their study on a common annual theme. The selected scholars recently arrived for the 2007-2008 academic year, from universities as far-flung as the Sorbonne, Oxford University, and the American University in Beirut.

This year, the Research Institute also invited applicants to work in residence at the newly reopened Getty Villa on projects that bear upon the Villa research theme. 2007 also marks the first time there will be professors at both sites to lead the scholar year; Erich Gruen, the Gladys Rehard Wood Professor of History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley, a specialist in Greek and Roman history as well as cultural appropriations and collective identity in antiquity, will lead the scholar year at the Villa and Angus Fletcher, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Graduate School at the City University of New York, a specialist in comparative literature, allegory, Edmund Spenser, the literature of nature, and postmodernisms will lead the scholar year at the Getty Center.

At the GRI, the scholars have access to the Research Library, including special collections, which also is open to the public six days a week. The special collections encompass rare books, prints, maps, photographs, manuscripts, and archival collections, including artists’ journals, letters, sketchbooks, architectural drawings, and much more. 

Special collections also include the world’s largest repository of video art, and a growing architecture collection, containing the archives of modernist architects Pierre Koenig, John Lautner, Ray Kappe, and photographer Julius Shulman.

The GRI shares its collections with scholars all over the world through the Research Library’s online catalogues, and develops electronic indexes, databases, and vocabularies designed to assist researchers in advancing critical inquiry into all forms of visual arts.
The public gets the opportunity to view the GRI’s rare treasures in frequent exhibitions in the GRI gallery.  Exhibitions planned for its 25th year include “China on Paper,” an examination of the exchange of ideas between China and European missionaries in the 19th century and “Lessons from Rudofsky,” featuring the work of architect, curator, critic, exhibition designer, and fashion designer Bernard Rudofsky. Lectures, panels, and performances also highlight aspects of the collection, providing both scholars and the general public opportunities to expand their awareness of art “in its widest possible significance.”

The GRI also makes a point of making its collections accessible. It kicks off its 25th anniversary with a special exhibition at the Los Angeles Public Library of Julius Shulman’s photography of the changing Los Angeles landscape over the last century.  Later in the year, the GRI will collaborate with MOCA in a series of “Happenings” in conjunction with MOCA’s exhibition of works by Allan Kaprow containing many items from the GRI collection.  The GRI is also working with local arts institutions to create “On the Record,” an oral history of LA’s pivotal role in postwar art which will culminate in a series of exhibitions across the Southland.

Throughout its 25th anniversary, the GRI’s public programming will highlight its unique collections and realms of inquiry – from “Cote a Cote,” a celebration of West Coast jazz and poetry this Fall, to screenings from its unparalleled video collection.  The GRI is also collaborating with the J. Paul Getty Museum to stage “California Video,” this Spring, the first comprehensive survey of video art emerging from Northern and Southern California in the late 1960s to the present.

During its 25th year, the GRI welcomes a new director: Thomas Gaehtgens, an internationally renowned art historian who was most recently the Chair of Art History at Freie Universitat in Berlin and director of the Deutsches Forum fur Kunstgeschichte/Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art, Paris.  Gaehtgens is familiar with the GRI, having served as a visiting scholar himself in 1985.  Gaehtgens, who begins his tenure in November 2007, will be the GRI’s fourth director.

The GRI offers “a unique possibility of advancing our understanding of art through exploration, investigation, interpretation, and propagation,” he recently told the Los Angeles Times.  “It’s a marvelous challenge.”

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Beth Brett
Getty Communications

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit our event calendar for a complete calendar of public programs.

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