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Kirk Varnedoe papers, 1890-2006 (bulk 1970-2003)

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Title: Kirk Varnedoe papers
Dates: 1890-2006 (bulk 1970-2003)
Number: 2008.M.60
Creator/Collector: Varnedoe, Kirk, 1946-2003
Extent: 61.08 Linear Feet (138 boxes)
Abstract: Papers of critic and curator Kirk Varnedoe include student papers and lecture notes, research files for exhibitions and publications, typescripts and audio tapes of lectures, and a small amount of material related to his position at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record for this collection. Click here for the access policy.
Language: Collection material is in English
Repository: The Getty Research Institute
Special Collections
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
(310) 440-7390
Author: Annette Leddy

Biographical/Historical Note

Kirk Varnedoe was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1946 to a wealthy and distinguished Southern family. He attended Williams College, where he began studying studio art, but soon switched to art history under the influence of Professor Lane Faison. He also played college football and, after graduating, returned to coach the football team and teach art history for a year. He then earned a Ph.D. at Stanford under Rodin scholar Albert Elsen, with whom he collaborated on an exhibition and catalog about the profusion of drawings falsely attributed to Rodin. From 1974 to 1988 he taught first at Columbia University and then at the Institute of Fine Arts, while also curating exhibitions on Scandinavian painting, Gustave Caillebotte, turn-of-the century Vienna, and primitivism in Modern Art. From 1988 to 2002 he was the curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His exhibitions there, beginning with High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, and ending with a major retrospective on Jackson Pollock, attempted to acquaint the museum-going public with art historical narratives that artists and academics had long accepted. These efforts, together with Varnedoe's Artist Choice series, which engaged contemporary artists to organize exhibitions of work from the permanent collection, helped move the museum into a less canonical and more dynamic presentation of modern art.

Scope and Content of Collection

The Kirk Varnedoe papers consist primarily of research files related to Varnedoe's publications, exhibitions, and lectures. Study photographs abound in these files, particularly of Auguste Rodin's drawings, but all Varnedoe's major interests are well represented, including Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns. Under some research topics are filed exhibition checklists, installation photographs, and bibliographies. Education and teaching files, containing syllabi, lecture notes, and papers, reveal a coherent intellectual path from Varnedoe's undergraduate days through the Mellon lectures given the year before his untimely death. There is scant personal material, mainly consisting of correspondence during his extended periods in France, and photographs of these travels. Apart from the exhibition material in the research files, Varnedoe's tenure at the Museum of Modern Art in New York is reflected in a discrete amount of miscellaneous material, such as meeting minutes, calendars, and memoranda. There are also audio recordings of Varnedoe's Slade and Mellon lectures.


Arranged in eight series:
Series I. Professional correspondence, 1969-2003;
Series II. Personal, 1970-2003, undated;
Series III. Education, 1964-1972, undated;
Series IV. Teaching, 1972-1985, undated;
Series V. Lectures, 1972-2005;
Series VI. Research and Writing, 1890-2006, undated;
Series VII. Museum of Modern Art files, 1948-2004, undated;
Series VIII. Printed matter, 1971-2006, undated.



Open for use by qualified researchers. Box 119 contains confidential correspondence and is restricted until 2082. Audio visual material restricted until reformatting is complete.

Publication Rights

Contact Library Reproductions and Permissions.

Indexing Terms

Subjects - Names

Pollock, Jackson
Rodin, Auguste

Subjects - Topics

Art exhibitions -- 20th century
Art, Modern -- 19th century
Art, Modern -- 20th century


Elsen, Albert E., 1927-1995
Johns, Jasper, 1930-
Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.)
Varnedoe, Kirk, 1946-2003

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Kirk Varnedoe Papers, 1890-2006 (bulk, 1970-2003), The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2008.M.60.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Elyn Zimmerman.

Processing History

Initial rehousing of the collection was performed by Vladimira Stefura. Jan Bender processed the greater part of the collection. Annette Leddy did a small part of the processing and cataloged and described the collection.

Container List

Series I. Professional correspondence, 1969-2003 1.25 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Letters regarding the authentication of Rodin drawings, exhibition planning, and book publication.
Arranged in chronological order by year.
1 1969-1972
Including letters from the National Gallery regarding Varnedoe's Rodin exhibition, from Praeger, Inc. regarding the Rodin book, and various letters regarding authentication of Rodin works.
2 1973-2003
Including letters from artists Duane Hansen and Cy Twombly, and regarding the exhibition Primitivism and Modern Art, and regarding various speaking engagements.
119 Restricted, 1974-1996
Series II. Personal items, 1967-2003, undated 1.04 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Letters from friends and colleagues, memorabilia, and photographs, mainly of travels.
Arranged in rough chronological order within the two media categories of correspondence and photography.
3 Correspondence, 1970-2003, undated
Including letters from friends and colleagues congratulating Varnedoe on appointments, expressing gratitude for his support, and offering sympathy for his final struggle with illness.
4, 120 Photographs, slides, and miscellaneous, 1967-2001, and undated
Including primarily photographs of travels in Europe, with some related memorabilia.
Series III. Education, 1964-1972, undated 3.75 Linear Feet (9 boxes)
A comprehensive record of Varnadoe's undergraduate and graduate studies, with term papers, lecture notes, transcripts, and assorted materials.
Materials from Williams College and Stanford University are grouped separately and arranged in rough chronological order by year.
5-7 Williams College, 1964-1968
Including term papers, lecture notes, address books, an art review from student newspaper, and transcripts. Also present are Varnadoe's curricula for a semester of post-graduate teaching at Williams (1968) and a narrative resume describing his choices and decisions during this stage of his life.
7-13 Stanford University, 1968-1972
Including Varnedoe's notes from his classes with Dr. Albert Elsen and others, photocopied pages from art historical textbooks, a heavily annotated copy of an issue of Stanford Today about Van Gogh, and a complete set of term papers from his graduate career. Also present are documents about Varnedoe's involvement in campus anti-war protests and art-related activism.
Series IV. Teaching, 1972-1985, undated 2.92 Linear Feet (7 boxes)
Lecture notes, syllabi, bibliographies, slides, and photocopied related readings.
Materials are grouped by institution in the sequence in which Varnedoe taught in them.
14, 133 Stanford University, 1972-1974
15-16 Columbia University, 1974-1979
17 New York University, 1980-1985
18 Las Meninas symposium, New York University, 1984
19 Assorted, undated
Series V. Lectures, 1972-2005 7.7 Linear Feet (16 boxes)
Research notes, drafts, study photographs, and in some cases, audio recordings and floppy disc records of the lectures.
Arranged in chronological order by year.
20 1972-1989
On topics such as Caillebotte, Rodin, photography, and primitivism in Modern Art.
21 1990-1992
On such topics as Pollock, Munch, collecting, and including the commencement address Varnedoe gave at Stanford.
Slade lectures: the Poverty of Postmodernism, 1992-1993
22-24 Drafts of lecture texts
box folder
137 C24-C31 Audiotapes of lectures
25 1993-1994
On topics such as Pollock and Twombly, and including Varnedoe's commencement speech at Williams College.
26, 120 1994-1997
On such topics as Twombly and Jasper Johns, and including Varnedoe's eulogy for Leo Castelli. Including views of Varnedoe in the act of lecturing.
27 1998-2000
On such topics as Lichtenstein, Pollock, David Smith, and Marcia Tucker
28 2001
On topics such as Roulin and Van Gogh, and for George Segal's memorial.
29 2002
On topics such as Matisse/Picasso, Van Gogh/Gauguin, and Rembrandt.
Mellon lectures: Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock, 2003-2005
30-34 Drafts of lectures
box folder
136 C12-C23 Audio tapes of lectures
Series VI. Research and Writings, 1890-2006, undated 34.59 Linear Feet (86 boxes)
Files on the artists or topics Varnedoe wrote on or curated exhibitions about, with ample visual material, historical scholarship in the form of photocopied articles and books, and often including correspondence with artists or the sponsoring institutions, and occasionally also exhibition installation photographs and checklists.
Arranged in three subseries.
Series VI.A. Artists, 1890-2006, undated 28 Linear Feet (67 boxes)
Files contain notes, readings, drafts of essays, study photographs and slides, with occasional audiotaped interviews of living artists.
Arranged in alphabetical order by the last name of the artist.
34A, 35-42, 121 Gustave Caillebotte, 1972-2001
43 Edgar Degas, 1899-1998
43, 137 Duane Hanson, 1974-1985
43-49 Jasper Johns, circa 1960-1996
50-51 Matisse/Picasso, 1959-2003
52-58 Jackson Pollock, 1926-2006
59-82, 122-125, 133 Auguste Rodin, 1892-2003
Including numerous authentication files, and research dating from Varnedoe's Stanford years through the 1990s when he wrote A Fine Regard.
83-86, 133 Scandinavian artists, circa 1950- circa 1988
Research on various artists for Varnedoe's Northern Lights exhibition in 1982, and book published in 1988.
87 Richard Serra, 1987-2002
87 James Turrell, 1967-2004
Cy Twombly, 1920-2000, undated
Cy Twombly (digital version available on-site only): 1920-2000

88-90, 121, 133 Drafts, readings, photographs
box folder
135 C1-C11 Audio tapes
C1: Lecture 1 of 3 from MOMA's Cy Twombly exhibit. October 4, 1994. Speakers are Richard Serra, Francesco Clemente, and Brice Marden.
C5: Lecture 3 of 3 from MOMA, titled "The Latin Class," October 25, 1994. Rosalind Krauss is the lecturer.
C8: Lecture 2 of 3 lectures from MOMA, titled "Rethinking Cy Twombly," October 11, 1994. Kirk Varnedoe is the lecturer.
C11: Kirk Varnedoe lectures on Cy Twombly at the National Gallery on May 17, 2001.
C2-C4 are duplicates of C1. C6, C7, and C10 are duplicates of C5. C9 is a duplicate of C8.
91-93 Vincent Van Gogh, circa 1890-2003
94-95 Andy Warhol, 1987-1999
Series VI.B. Topics, 1911-2002, undated 2.5 Linear Feet (7 boxes)
A selection of topics Varnedoe pursued during his lifetime.
Arranged in alphabetical order by topic.
96 Abstraction, 1963-2002
96 Aviation, 1911-1970
97 High and Low, 1962-1992
Including reviews of the landmark show and numerous installation shots.
98-99, 126-127 Ruins, 1968-2001
Box 99 contains eleven notebooks with Varnedoe's reflections on ruins and other themes, mainly from his 1977 research trip.
100 Primitivism. 1984
100 Propellers, 1944-1992
100 Vienna, 1985-1986
Series VI.C. Assorted, 1944-2003, undated 4.09 Linear Feet (12 boxes)
Including articles about critical theory, clippings of general interest, and research possibly related to other curatorial and writing interests. Includes card catalog of Varnedoe's upstate New York library and audio visual material relating to topics other than the artists listed in subseries VI.A.
Arranged in chronological order by year.
101-106 Articles by others, 1944-2003
128-133 Slides, undated
Including views of monuments in Europe and commercially available slides of the work of various artists.
box folder
134 F1-F4 Films, undated
Including four reels, 3 unidentified, 1 about the artist Krogh.
box folder
137 C32-C33 Audiotapes, circa 1995
Including a Varnedoe interview with Jeff Koons.
box folder
138 D1-D19 Digital media, circa 1980 - circa 2003
Media generally pertains to lectures and includes one recording of the card catalog of Varnadoe's library. 14 computer discs (floppy disk) : 3 1/2 in. 3 computer disc (floppy disk) : 5 1/4 in. 2 computer disc : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
Series VII. Museum of Modern Art files, 1948-2004, undated 1.25 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Including minutes of meetings, reports about art institutions other than MOMA, memoranda, and assorted correspondence.
Arranged in rough chronological order by year.
107 Papers by museum world colleagues and Varnedoe about Museum collecting and management, 1948-2004
Including interview with Adam Gopnik, and plans for museum expansion.
108 MOMA catalogs and calendars, memos, minutes of meetings regarding MOMA expansion and the Painting and Sculpture committee
109 MOMA Cycle III meeting notes
Series VIII. Printed matter, 1971-2006, undated 8.58 Linear Feet (9 boxes)
Including a fairly complete clipping file and mainstream serial collection on Varnedoe, documenting his career, with seemingly random selections of art ephemera.
Materials are grouped by type.
110 Articles about Varnedoe, 1976-2001
111-114 Proofs of Pictures of Nothing, 2006
Including correspondence with Varnedoe's widow.
115 Postcards of art, undated
116 Announcements and brochures, 1972-1999, undated
117 Periodicals, 1971-2002
118 Miscellaneous, 1977-1991, undated