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Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Kirk Varnedoe papers
    Date (inclusive): 1890-2006 (bulk 1970-2003)
    Number: 2008.M.60
    Creator/Collector: Varnedoe, Kirk, 1946-2003
    Physical Description: 61.08 Linear Feet (138 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    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

    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.

    Administrative Information


    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

    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.

    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.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Rodin, Auguste
    Pollock, Jackson

    Subjects - Topics

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


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