Multiple contextualizations.

Author:Roth, Michael S.
Position:Mission of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities - Money, Power, and the History of Art

The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities aims to encourage scholars to unearth meanings assigned by different cultures, past and current, on what they consider as works of art. It believes that the insights garnered from these researches would be of use in understanding or molding present and future developments in art. Through its grants, it releases the scholars... (see full summary)


As a historian who had concentrated on the history of philosophy and the theory of history, I was more than a little surprised when in 1994 I received an invitation to be a resident scholar at the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities. As I learned more about the Scholars Program, however, it seemed to be an ideal environment in which to spend an academic year concentrating on my project on the conceptualization of memory disorders in nineteenth-century France. Since the other scholars and fellows in residence that year were also working on memory, I anticipated a rich exchange of ideas and research. At the time, I wasn't thinking about how my own work was related to "the history of art," nor about how it might contribute to the intellectual mission of the Getty. I was going on sabbatical, and my chief concern was to get my work done.

Sabbaticals rarely go as expected, of course, and mine took a sharp turn after I completed a section of my project on hysteria, memory, and trauma. About midway through the year, I accepted an invitation to become the curator for an exhibition on Freud and psychoanalysis at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and still later, in the spring, became a candidate for a position as assistant director at the Getty Research Institute. The Freud exhibit provoked an extraordinary amount of controversy and publicity in its early planning stages, to say nothing of the enormous conceptual and design problems of mounting a compelling, accessible show on complex ideas. After a year of teaching cultural studies and defending the legitimacy of the planned exhibition on Freud (now scheduled to open in Washington in the fall of 1998), I returned to the Getty a few months ago as head of the Scholars and Seminars Program. The invitation from Nancy Troy to say something about how that program might contribute to the field of art history thus comes at a good time. Now I am very concerned with how my projects connect to the Getty's, and with how the Research Institute's intellectual mission might shape work in the history of art and the humanities.

It may strike some as odd (if not perverse) that someone from the Getty should be asked to contribute a piece to a "Critical Perspectives" discussion dealing with money and power. Money and power are associated with the institution, but critical perspectives on them? I have learned in my short time at the Research Institute that the Getty has a reputation among some in the discipline of not being critical enough, of using its money and power to support those established members of the discipline who need it least. In part, this reputation stems from the rather mysterious selection procedure of the Scholars Program. Art historians often wonder how they can be invited to participate in it. Applications are accepted for the predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships, but, with the exception of this past year, there has been no application process for senior scholars. In an effort to widen the selection process, an application procedure was used for the 1996-97 program, a year devoted to the theme "Perspectives on Los Angeles." However, among those now in...

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