Getty Acquires Archive of Visionary Photograph Gallerist Peter MacGill

Friday, May 31, 2024
Getty Acquires Archive of Visionary Photograph Gallerist Peter MacGill

The Getty Research Institute has acquired the archive of American gallerist, curator, and historian Peter MacGill.

MacGill created a standard of fine art photography, providing artists the highest level of representation, and establishing Pace/MacGill Gallery as a preeminent venue dealing in modern and contemporary photography. After working at LIGHT Gallery beginning in 1973, and eventually becoming its director, and at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, soon after it opened in 1976, MacGill opened Pace/MacGill Gallery in 1983. The gallery was a partnership among MacGill, Arne Glimcher of Pace Gallery and Richard Solomon of Pace Prints. At Pace/MacGill Gallery, MacGill exhibited the work of celebrated photographers, showcased emerging artists, and reached back into history to elevate forgotten visionaries, mounting more than 500 exhibitions, and publishing exhibition catalogues during his 50 years in the field. 

The gallery represented such masters of photography as Richard Avedon, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Emmet Gowin, Paul Graham, Peter Hujar, Josef Koudelka, Richard Learoyd, Richard Misrach, Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz, and JoAnn Verburg. The rise of photography in American public consciousness is due in large part to MacGill who facilitated the building of distinguished collections at leading institutions: Robert Frank at the National Gallery of Art; Irving Penn at the Art Institute of Chicago; Charles Sheeler at SFMOMA; Duane Michals at Carnegie Museum of Art; Paul Strand at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, David Goldblatt at the Yale University Art Gallery and Beineke Library, and Irving Penn at the J. Paul Getty Museum. 

Standing out among his many relations in cultivating important private collectors, MacGill negotiated the acquisition of Thomas Walther’s collection of early-20th-century European modernism by MoMA, and Manfred Heiting’s exceptional survey collection by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. As corporate collectors began to acquire fine art photographs, and private collectors sought out select work, MacGill worked with other experts to develop appropriate standards for materials analysis, provenance, and exhibition history, all to further a deeper understanding of the photographs the Gallery handled. 

The MacGill archive includes records of daily interactions in calendars and call lists, includes business transactions, and documents exhibition installations, client correspondence, press releases and clippings, as well as snapshots from MacGill’s time in the field. It details how the gallery was positioned to provide artists and collectors with a full range of services from authentication of works of art, authoritative appraisals, to intellectual property, and outside legal advice. 

“MacGill's archive elevates the Getty as a preeminent resource on the history of photography and the emergence of the medium in the collective minds of the public and the museum world,” says Mary Miller, director of the Getty Research Institute. “Covering nearly 50 years, the MacGill archive details the period when the medium of photography came to be recognized as a premier art form. This generous donation highlights the central role Peter MacGill played in the medium’s evolution.”

Peter and Susan MacGill have a long-standing and important relationship with the Getty, both with the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and now at the GRI with this archive which chronicles an era in the history of photography, touching each facet of the story. “I am deeply honored and grateful that the Getty Research Institute is the home of my papers,” says MacGill. “My privilege in the field was to have worked with the artists, museums, and private collectors who walked through our doors and always ended up teaching us something interesting, if not profound. That the record of these activities will be made available to the public ensures that the gifts these artists and friends shared with us can reach a wider audience.”


Stephanie Cime

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