Archives of American Art Announces Pivotal Gift from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

By the Archives
October 24, 2018
$5 million gift enables the Archives to digitize material in its collections from historically underrepresented artists
Head and shoulders portrait of Jeff Donaldson.

Portrait of Jeff Donaldson, circa 1970 / unidentified photographer. Jeff Donaldson papers, 1918-2009, bulk 1966-2003. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, today announced it has received a $5 million gift from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation to create an endowment to process and digitize material on art and artists from historically underrepresented groups in the Archives’ collections and the American canon, making them broadly available online. African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and women are typically underrepresented in U.S. museum collections.

The gift is among the largest in the history of the Archives and builds on the commitment the Foundation made in June with its announcement of a promised gift to the Archives of the expansive Roy Lichtenstein Foundation records and Roy Lichtenstein papers comprising more than 500 linear feet.

Highlights of materials already in the Archives’ collections that will be prioritized for processing and digitization using proceeds from the endowment include:

Since its establishment 64 years ago, the Archives has been committed to diversifying and broadening its collections and making them publicly accessible online. While the Archives has one of the most ambitious digitization programs in the world, the process requires time and meticulous attention to detail. Thus, to date, the Archives has been able to process only about 13 percent of its collections, which are continually expanding.

The timely gift, which helps to match a generous challenge grant to endow digitization at the Archives made by the Terra Foundation for American Art in 2016, brings the Archives’ digitization endowment to more than $11 million, securing a robust future for the program. It also ensures that women and people of color will represent a greater proportion of the Archives’ processing and digitization activity going forward.

“The Archives of American Art has been committed to diversity in its collections since our early years, beginning with the acquisition of Horace Pippin’s illustrated World War I memoir in 1958,” said Kate Haw, director of the Archives of American Art. “Since then, we have worked to build strength in collections focused on historically underrepresented art and artists and to make these collections available to a worldwide audience, but we need to do more. This extraordinary gift reinforces our work to add to our existing collections on underrepresented artists and enables us to share an ever more inclusive story of American art globally. The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation’s wonderful generosity will lead to further research in under-recognized areas of our field, future exhibitions, and publications, connecting people everywhere with the stories of a wider range of artists. We are profoundly grateful to the Foundation for their vision and support.”

Dorothy Lichtenstein, president of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, said, “We are delighted to support the Archives of American Art and the processing and digitization of materials related to these important artists. We applaud institutions like the Archives that open their virtual doors wide and invite the world in. Having this diversity of treasures available online will allow students, scholars, and art-lovers to explore and expand on the remarkable network of connections and associations across the vibrant arc of American art history.”

The Archives will begin processing and digitizing material under this endowment in early 2019.

About the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

Opened in 1999, the Foundation’s primary mission is to facilitate public access to the work of Roy Lichtenstein and contemporary art, in general. The Foundation continues research for its production of a web-based catalogue raisonné of all Lichtenstein work. It has previously created the Harry Shunk-Janos Kender Photography Collection when the Foundation was able to rescue and preserve the enormous Harry Shunk estate photography holdings. These crucial visual documents of European and American 1960s/1970s artist actions and performances, exhibitions, and artists working in their studios were fully archived and subsequently donated to the Getty Research Institute, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, Tate, and Centre Georges Pompidou. The Foundation has recently launched a major study collection gift of Lichtenstein art and photography to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Additional national and international art and collection partnerships are being planned for the coming years.