For over 40 years, Peter Sellars has pushed boundaries within the theater and performing arts communities—from unconventional reimaginations of classic plays to politically charged operas, to festivals that celebrate art around the world.
The acclaimed stage director, UCLA Distinguished Professor and MacArthur Fellow has donated his vast personal archive to the Getty Research Institute. Along with a related donation—the Los Angeles Festival records—his papers will greatly enhance the Research Institute’s holdings related to developments in the history of performing arts.
Sellars’s daring, controversial productions date back to his undergraduate days at Harvard University, where in the 1970s he directed a puppet version of Wagner’s Ring cycle and set Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in a swimming pool. In the late 1980s he set Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s The Marriage of Figaro in an apartment in New York’s Trump Tower, and starting with Nixon in China in 1987, went on to collaborate on the creation of many works with composer John Adams, often contributing the librettos. He has directed festivals around the globe, and has been awarded numerous recognitions, including the Erasmus Prize (1998) and the Harvard Arts Medal (2001).
Sellars’s archive covers all phases of his career and includes posters and banners, correspondence, research, photographic material, notes, drafts of plays and musical scores, architectural plans, and puppets and related props.
The Los Angeles Festival—held in 1987, 1990, and 1993—combined performing arts, visual arts, and cinema, and originated as a follow-up to the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. The donation to the Research Institute, given by the festival’s board of directors, comprises records pertaining to the 1990 and 1993 festivals, which Sellars directed.
In 1990, Sellars and co-curator Judith Mitoma focused on arts from the Pacific Rim and emphasized the connection between traditional art forms in 25 foreign countries and those countries’ expats in Los Angeles, so as to acknowledge the contribution of these communities to the city’s cultural landscape. The 1990 festival expanded into more than 70 venues all around L.A. County, including malls, temples, community centers, and parks.
The 1993 festival took place during the aftermath of the Gulf War and Rodney King uprising. The event had a clear focus on African, Middle-Eastern, and African American cultures, with Leimert Park, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles, as its geographical epicenter. Sellars also experimented with a less centralized curatorial model, and one of the main sections was curated by guest artists.
The archive includes research files, correspondence, work documents, photographs, and audio- and videocasettes. The acquisition will expand the Getty Research Institute’s performing arts-related holdings to a global scale, and also offer research material on a major, city-wide art festival that paved the way for events such as Getty’s Pacific Standard Time series.