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Getty Research Institute acquires photographer and author Lewis Baltz archive
Mining photos, Leipzig Südraum, Germany, 1995. The Lewis Baltz Archive, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 2013.A.112. © Lewis Baltz.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Getty Research Institute announced today the acquisition of the archive of Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945). A distinguished photographer and author, Baltz and his wife, artist Slavica Perkovic, have generously donated his entire archive to the Getty Research Institute.

“We at the Getty Research Institute are deeply honored to house this archive,” said Thomas W. Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute. “The Lewis Baltz archive will establish the Getty as a center for the study of his work and those movements he helped to pioneer. Having lived in Europe and the US, his fascinating work as a photographer represents a new and original approach in the context of social, political, and environmental changes and challenges in last the decades.”

Baltz’s groundbreaking work gained early recognition in 1975 when the artist participated in New Topographics, a landmark exhibition instrumental in creating a paradigm shift in the history of photography. He stands out in his early career for crafting series of exquisite black-and-white prints that provoke thought because of their Minimalist aesthetic combined with a staunch conceptual approach. From 1967 to 1989, he produced 11 series of works, including The Tract Houses (1971) and The New Industrial Parks, Near Irvine, California (1974) that are seminal for bringing attention to the overlooked margins of our consumer economy.

The archive acquired by the GRI documents Baltz’s entire career. It includes a complete set of his negatives and contact prints with meticulous printing notes, numerous proof prints, examples of final prints, videos, hundreds of installation views, rare ephemera, and publications on and by him.

“The archive is particularly valuable for the information it holds on Baltz’s ephemeral projects, both public and site-generated, that were not well documented,” said Frances Terpak, curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute. “This archive offers a comprehensive overview of Baltz’s artistic practice and helps us understand the conceptual underpinnings of an artist who has so significantly shaped the course of photography and photographic media in the late-20th and early-21st century.”

Feeling disgusted with the politics of the Reagan/Bush era, Baltz moved in the late 1980s to Europe, where his artistic style shifted to color photography, often focused on site-generated projects originating from commissions but still centered on current socio-political issues.

“My work in the 1980s had an apocalyptic subtext; by 1990 it seemed that the world had, in a sense, already ended, that is, it had withdrawn itself from our apprehension,” Baltz explained. “After 1990, no one had time for documentary images, least of all myself. In 1988 I became fascinated with the twin phenomena of technology and nomadism. They seemed to be related to each other and to the disappearance of the world.”

In Sites of Technology (1989-91), Baltz shows the dystopian worlds where technical research takes place at companies such as Toshiba and Mitsubishi by evoking on film the invisible power machines hold over humans. Though his work is often aligned with cinema, this is most evident in the large-scale color installations with soundtracks—Le Ronde de Nuit (1992), Docile Bodies (1995), and The Politics of Bacteria (1995)—where he exposes the fabricated environments of cyberworlds and their impact on ecology and society.

Baltz’s work has been exhibited in over fifty one-person exhibitions at venues including the Leo Castelli Gallery, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tokyo Institute of Polytechnics, and the Albertina. His works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Tate Modern, London; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, among others.

Baltz has received numerous fellowships including National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1973 and 1976, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977, and the United States-United Kingdom Bicentennial Fellowship in 1980.

The extensive Lewis Baltz Archive will be cataloged at the GRI and made available to researchers in 2014.

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