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Orr (Eric) documentary photographs and papers
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Administrative Information
  • Related Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Eric Orr documentary photographs and papers
    Date (inclusive): 1959-2012, undated
    Number: 2017.M.13
    Creator/Collector: Orr, Eric, 1939-1998
    Physical Description: 24.06 Linear Feet (37 boxes, 2 boxed-rolls, 19 flatfile folders. Computer media: 10.90 GB [195 files])
    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: The Eric Orr papers consist primarily of photographic prints, slides, transparencies, and negatives that document the Light and Space movement artist's paintings, sculptures, and public fountains. Also present are schematic drawings and plans for Orr's public works and ephemera, clippings, and administrative files that detail Orr's life and practice.
    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

    Eric Orr was a key figure in the Light and Space movement in Southern California. Born in 1939 in Covington, Kentucky, Orr graduated from the Kentucky Military Institute in 1958 and spent his early years traveling across the United States and Cuba. He briefly attended the University of Cincinnati in the early 1960s, where he produced his first sculpture, Colt .45, a work later known as Saturday Night Special. The work featured a mounted pistol facing a chair; viewers could sit and control the pistol via a foot pedal.
    Orr participated in civil rights protests in Mississippi in 1964 before relocating to Los Angeles in 1965, where he began to produce performances, sound art, and perceptual installations, using the elemental qualities of silence, sound, darkness, and light as material. Among these works was Zero Mass (1972-1973), an immersive 38-foot-long installation made of paper, where up to five people could enter a dark oval chamber and, after 10 to 12 minutes, experience altered vision from the lack of spatial perception.
    Developing alongside both Southern California conceptual art and the perceptual-based installations commonly associated with Light and Space art, Orr's work spanned a variety of artistic practices that challenged the definition of artmaking while also incorporating a broad range of cultural references, including space icons found in ancient religions and cultures, Egyptian symbolism, and Buddhist spiritualism.
    From the 1970s onward, Orr created a diverse body of atmospheric monochrome paintings using airbrushing and oil paint, wall-mounted sculptures, and public artworks which incorporated a variety of elements including fire, water, gold, volcanic ash, meteorite dust, and his own blood.
    Orr participated in a number of international exhibitions during his life, including documenta VII (1982), the Sydney Biennale (1986), and the Venice Biennale (1986). His work can be found in many public and private collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Orr died in Venice, California, in 1998.
    Sources consulted:
    Eric Orr (1939-1998): A Survey of Works. Santa Monica, CA: Robert Berman Gallery, [2007].
    Eric Orr: Time's Shadow. New York, NY: Scott Hanson Gallery, 1987.
    Eric Orr: A Twenty Year Survey. San Diego, CA: University Art Gallery, San Diego State University, 1984.
    Phillips, Glenn. Acquisition Approval Form for "Eric Orr (American, 1939-1998), archive, c. 1959-1998, accession no. 2017.M.13," September 10, 2019.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of box 13, folder 11, which is unavailable pending conservation treatment. Born digital content will be made available on-site only, through the digital preservation repository. Born digital content and audiovisual materials unavailable until reformatted. Contact reference for reformatting.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Eric Orr papers and documentary photographs, 1959-2012, undated, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2017.M.13.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of The Estate of Eric Orr. Acquired in 2017.

    Processing Information

    Sarah Mackenzie Wade processed the collection and wrote the finding aid in 2019.
    Digital materials were processed by Laura Schroffel in 2019. Files require further processing before access copies can be made available.

    Related Materials

    Elizabeth Orr Crazy Wisdom documentary on Eric Orr, 2011, Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 2015.M.26.
    Giuseppe Panza papers, 1956-1990, Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 940004.
    Hal Glicksman papers, 1927-2010, Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 2009.M.5.
    Several publications have been transferred to the Getty Research Library's general collections.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The archive consists primarily of photographic prints, slides, transparencies, and negatives that document the artist's paintings, sculptures, and public fountains from the 1970s to the 1990s. Also present are schematic drawings for Orr's public works projects and their sites. To a lesser extent, the archive includes papers that detail Orr's practice, with notes that relate to installation plans and project proposals, ephemera that pertains to exhibitions of Orr's work, typescript accounts of Orr's friendship with artist James Lee Byars, and transcripts of interviews conducted by the artist's daughter Elizabeth for her documentary, Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Work of Eric Orr.


    Arranged in three series: and Series I. Documentary photographs, 1964-2001, undated; Series II. Schematic drawings, 1987-2001, undated; Series III. Papers, 1959-2012, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Orr, Eric, 1939-1998
    Orr, Elizabeth, 1984-

    Subjects - Topics

    Art, American -- California -- 20th century
    Artists -- Archives
    Light and space (Art movement)
    Light art -- California, Southern
    Space (Art)

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Black-and-white photographs -- 20th century
    Blueprints (reprographic copies) -- 20th century
    Born digital
    Color photographs -- 20th century
    Color transparencies -- 20th century
    Compact discs -- 20th century
    Diffusion transfer prints -- 20th century
    Negatives (Photographs) -- 20th century
    Photographs, Original.
    Printed ephemera -- 20th century
    Slides (photographs) -- 20th century


    Orr, Eric, 1939-1998
    Orr, Elizabeth, 1984-