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

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Marcia Tucker papers
    Date (inclusive): 1918-2007, bulk 1957-2005
    Number: 2004.M.13
    Creator/Collector: Tucker, Marcia
    Physical Description: 93.51 Linear Feet (205 boxes, 3 flat file folders)
    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: Museum files, correspondence, writings and other materials pertinent to Marcia Tucker's career as curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art and founding director of the New Museum (New York, N.Y.).
    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

    Marcia Tucker (1940-2006), American curator, art critic and museum director, studied art and art history at Connecticut College (B.A.) and New York University (M.A.) where she worked with Robert Goldwater. Starting out as an artist, she wrote reviews for art magazines, and cataloged and curated the private collections of Alfred and Margo Barr, and of William and Noma Copley. Finding she preferred the role of art interpreter and presenter, she accepted a position as curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she soon distinguished herself as an innovator and advocate for the underrepresented American artists residing outside New York City, as well as for women artists, African American artists, folk artists, and other sorts of "outsiders." Insisting that the criteria for exhibiting contemporary art should never be those of the connoisseur, Tucker selected work that challenged, disturbed, and resisted interpretation. For this she was roundly criticized but not deterred from what she later called "a career built on bad reviews." Frequently traveling around the country and especially to California for studio visits, she developed friendships with artists whose work she exhibited, such as Terry Allen, John Baldessari, and Bruce Nauman. These unconventionally close relationships, and what is now seen as her groundbreaking exhibition on Richard Tuttle, possibly contributed to her being fired from the Whitney.
    In response, Tucker founded the first museum of contemporary art in New York, the New Museum. Working on a shoestring budget and with a small staff of like-minded individuals, Tucker experimented with presenting exhibitions that openly flaunted traditional art historical standards, such as Bad Painting (1978). At the same time, the museum was to be run as differently as possible from the hierarchical Whitney: all decisions were made collectively and by consensus. The challenges of maintaining this approach as the institution grew in size and budget made the New Museum, among other things, a laboratory for institutional innovation. The Museum soon acquired powerful supporters in Henry Luce III and Vera List, who helped to guide the institution toward greater financial stability. The museum's program continued to be focussed on the underrepresented, and perhaps less on the avant-garde per se. Among major exhibitions were the following: The Decade show (1984), Living Paintings (1988), Strange Attractors: Signs of Chaos (1989), Bad Girls (1994), and The Time of Our Lives (1999). Tucker retired in 2000 and died in 2006.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, except Marcia Tucker's manuscript, "A Short Life of Trouble," which is sealed until 16 October 2106 (Box 72). Audio visual material is unavailable until reformatting is complete. Contact the repository for information regarding access.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Marcia Tucker papers, 1957-2007. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2004.M.13

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired from Marcia Tucker, 2004.

    Processing History

    Annette Leddy processed and arranged the papers and wrote the finding aid in 2005. She also processed five shipments of additional materials. The first two additions, received in 2005, were integrated into the rest of the archive; a third addition, received in 2008, was not integrated and comprises Series XIX; a fourth ADD, received in 2012, forms Series XX, a fifth, consisting of a single DVD,was integrated into the DVDs in Series XIX (Box 23, DVD 12).

    Digitized Material

    Selected audio recordings have been digitized. Access is available on-site only: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2004m13av 

    Separated Material

    200 monographs and circa 30 serials were transferred to the library.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection documents Marcia Tucker's uniquely intertwined personal and professional activity from the beginning of her work as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968 through her retirement from the Founding Directorship of the New Museum in 2000. Museum files from the Whitney, comprising acquisitions, studio visits, interoffice memos, and minutes of meetings, reflect the institutional practices and aesthetic standards that Tucker ebulliently questioned. Her firing from the Whitney is portrayed in correspondence and clippings, as is her subsequent creation of an experimental institution, the New Museum. The evolution of Tucker's prescient, influential ideas about contemporary art, art exhibition, and museum management is evident in exhibition files, writings, lectures, and in her collection of writings by others.
    Correspondence reveals her close connection with artists throughout the U.S., and her exceptional capacity to inspire and relate to various types of people. There are relatively large files of letters from the artists Nicholas Africano, Terry Allen, John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, Pat Steir, Jack Tworkov and Ree Morton. There is also a good amount of correspondence with Henry Luce III, whose support was critical to the New Museum's success. From the period prior to Tucker's term at the Whitney are letters from employers Margo Barr and William and Noma Copley, and a file of letters from Tucker's first husband, Michael Tucker.

    Arrangement note

    Arranged in 18 series: Series I. Museum files, 1965-2001 Series II. Correspondence, 1960-2003 Series III. Exhibitions, 1969-1999 Series IV. Artists' files, 1965-1999 Series V. Writings, 1957-2004 Series VI. Lectures, 1965-2002 Series VII. Teaching files, 1967-1978 Series VIII. Theater files, 1976-2000 Series IX. Notebooks, circa 1960-2004 Series X. Personal, 1960-2005 Series XI. Writings by others, circa 1964-2003 Series XII. Printed matter, 1967-2000 Series XIII. Visitor books, 1996,1999 Series XIV. Artwork, 1960-1993 Series XV. Slides, negatives and color photographs, circa 1968-2002 Series XVI. Videos, 1980-2003 Series XVII. Audio recordings, 1970-1993 Series XVIII. Diskettes, 1985-2001 Series XIX. ADD3, 1918-2006 Series XX. ADD4, 1955-2007.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Tucker, Marcia

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, N.Y.)

    Subjects - Topics

    Feminism and art -- United States
    Artists -- United States -- Correspondence
    Art, American-20th century
    Art museum curators-United States-Professional relationships
    Art critics-United States-Correspondence
    Museum curators -- United States -- Correspondence

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Sound recordings
    Phonograph records
    Compact disks
    Photographic prints


    Africano, Nicholas
    Allen, Jo Harvey
    Allen, Terry
    Baldessari, John
    Copley, Noma
    Luce, Henry, III
    Copley, William Nelson
    Nauman, Bruce
    Morton, Ree
    Tucker, Marcia
    Tuttle, Richard
    Tucker, Michael
    Tworkov, Jack