J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

Day Without Art: A Time to Ask, “What If…?”

Tatjana, Veiled Head, Joshua Tree / Herb Ritts

Tatjana, Veiled Head, Joshua Tree, Herb Ritts (American, 1952–2002), 1988. Platinum print, 22 x 18 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011.19.13 © Herb Ritts Foundation

A few months ago, I attended a conversation at the Annenberg Space for Photography on Herb Ritts. Next April, the Getty Museum will present a major exhibition on Ritts, a photographer known for his iconic images of celebrities and models such as Richard Gere, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington. I, along with many others, first discovered his photographs in the pages of Vanity Fair, the magazine for which he did some of his best-known work.

Ritts died of AIDS in 2002. One of the questions asked after the talk was, “If Herb Ritts were alive, what might he be doing today? How would his work have evolved?”

Today marks the 23rd annual commemoration of Day Without Art, a time when we pause to observe the void AIDS has created in the arts community. It’s a day where we ask...what if? What if Herb Ritts were still alive today? What about Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, or Félix González-Torres? And what about those artists who had yet to make their mark? How would the art world be different if they were still with us?

For the past 22 years, the Getty Museum has acknowledged Day Without Art because we feel it is important to remember the contributions of these artists and the many other individuals lost to AIDS.

Over the years, we have shrouded works of art, led special tours, and even closed galleries throughout the day to communicate the idea of loss. This year we’ll be screening Last Address, Ira Sachs’s 2010 film showing the exteriors of the houses, apartment buildings, and lofts where several well-known New York artists were living at the time of their deaths, marking the disappearance of an artistic generation. This haunting, meditative film is both a remembrance of that loss and a reminder of the continued presence of their work in our lives and culture. You can watch the film here.

Only four of the artists commemorated in the film lived past 50—Herb Ritts’s age when he died. The film prompts us to ask again: “What if?”

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      #ProvenancePeek: July 31

      Every art object has a story—not only of how it was made, but of how it changed hands over time until it found its current home. That story is provenance.

      This small panel by Dutch master Gerrit Dou (photographed only in black and white) is now in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. It was sold to American collector Robert Sterling Clark, an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, in the summer of 1922.

      How do we know this? Archival sleuthing! A peek into the handwritten stock books of M. Knoedler & Co. (book 7, page 10, row 40, to be exact) records the Dou in “July 1922” (right page, margin). Turning to the sales books, which lists dates and prices, we again find the painting under the heading “New York July 1922,” with its inventory number 14892. A tiny “31” in superscript above Clark’s name indicates the date the sale was recorded.

      M. Knoedler was one of the most influential dealers in the history of art, selling European paintings to collectors whose collections formed the genesis of great U.S. museums. The Knoedler stock books have recently been digitized and transformed into a searchable database, which anyone can query for free.

      Girl at a Window, 1623–75, Gerrit Dou. Oil on panel, 10 9/16 x 7 ½ in. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

      #ProvenancePeek is a monthly series by research assistant Kelly Davis peeking into #onthisday provenance finds from the M. Knoedler & Co. archives at the Getty Research Institute.


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