Getty Research Institute acquires Margo Leavin Gallery archives

Getty Research Institute acquires Margo Leavin Gallery archives
William T. Wiley, Letter to Margo Leavin, 1976 (Margo Leavin Gallery)

The Getty Research Institute announced Tuesday that it has acquired the complete archives of the Margo Leavin Gallery, the influential 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 up-and-coming artists from New York and Los Angeles.


Leavin said in an interview 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 installations, 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, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, William T. Wiley and Andy Warhol.

"You have to realize this was prior to email and computers," Leavin said. "In the early days, I got beautiful letters from Dan Flavin, 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 place her archives with 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."

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