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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: Robert Watts papers
    Date (inclusive): 1883-1989 (bulk 1940-1988)
    Number: 2006.M.27
    Creator/Collector: Watts, Robert
    Physical Description: 36.5 Linear Feet (76 boxes, 9 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: American artist of mixed media, sculpture, and assemblage, best known as a founding member of Fluxus. The archive consists of correspondence, manuscripts, personal documents, and many photographs and slides documenting Watts' work and affiliations with artists. Also included are three works of art.
    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

    Robert Watts, born in 1923, spent his childhood and adolescence in Iowa and Louisville, Kentucky. The son of a mechanical engineer, Watts also earned an engineering degree, but after serving in World War II, went on to study art history at Columbia University. His emphasis was the study of ancient art and architecture in the Americas and Australia; his Master's thesis was on the masks of the Alaskan Eskimo (M.A. 1951).
    For several years Watts worked as an abstract expressionist painter while teaching in the engineering department at Rutgers University. By the late 1950s he had moved to the art department and had also begun to employ his engineering training in his art, initially making boxes with electro-mechanical circuitry. Rutgers colleague Allan Kaprow, sculptor-chemist George Brecht, and Watts together wrote a proposal for an experimental laboratory for multi-media art entitled "Project in Multiple Dimensions" (1957-1958). Though never funded, this proposal articulated new assumptions about art in its relation to the everyday and to increasingly accessible media technologies, soon to find expression in the happenings, events, and installations of the 1960s, and eventually in the formation of Fluxus and Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.).
    The everyday objects Watts reinvented as artifacts (cartons of eggs, stamps, floor mops) associated him with Pop Art, and his pieces appeared in the landmark 1963 Bianchini Supermarket Show. Philosophically, however, he was most allied with Fluxus, of which he was a founding and lifelong member. Persistently seeking ways to infiltrate commodity culture with art, Watts de-emphasized himself as creator while brilliantly illuminating infrastructural systems such as the U.S. postal service, mint, patent office or F.B.I. He worked in a wide range of novel media, including neon, laminates, Polaroid photography, video, film, sound, and light. While his studies in ancient art inform much of his work indirectly, they most distinctly appear in the African statues made of chrome. He collaborated with Fluxus associates on many events, workshops and festivals, including Yam Festival (1963) and FluxYear/Gemini (1974; 1978). In 1967, Watts and George Maciunas worked with Herman Fine to create a company called Implosions for producing and distributing ironic anti-commodities, such as disfiguring masks or transparent plastic dresses.
    As an art professor, Watts was equally ingenious, establishing an Experimental Workshop at Rutgers that he took to the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1968. Believing that approaches to teaching art had to be radically changed, Watts encouraged a collaborative and spontaneous approach to creating multi-media events, some featuring recurring characters in Watts' work, like the Fur Family. In 1970 he co-edited an anthology, Proposals for Art Education.
    Though most often exhibited in group shows, Watts had significant solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art and Rene Block Gallery in New York, the Ricke Gallery in Kassel, and at Multhipla and Francesco Conz Gallery in Milan. Since his death in 1988, Watts' prescience as an artist has been increasingly recognized, most influentially in a 1990 show at Leo Castelli Gallery, in Experiments in the Everyday: Allan Kaprow and Robert Watts (1999) and in Off-Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-garde (1999).

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of unreformatted audiovisual material. Access restricted for Boxes 2, 3, 4, and 7 pending the estate's further consideration.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Robert Watts papers, 1883-1989, bulk 1940-1988, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 2006.M.27

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 2006 from the Robert Watts Estate.

    Processing History

    Lora Chin did the preliminary processing of the collection, and Annette Leddy further processed and arranged it.

    Processing History

    Processed by Lora Chin and Annette Leddy. Original inventory numbers assigned by the Estate have been retained.

    Digitized Audiovisual Material

    Online access to selected digitized audio and video recordings  is available to on-site readers and Getty staff.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection documents Robert Watts' development as an artist and art professor, with ample evidence of his relationship with Fluxus colleagues, dealers and friends. Watts' Iowa family background is presented in photographs, correspondence, family genealogies, health histories, legal and financial papers, and clippings dating back to the 1880s; together with report cards and yearbooks, these offer a relatively clear picture of the artist's midwestern roots. Photographs portray his subsequent years in the service and in New York while a student at Columbia, with summers on Monhegan Island, while graduate school term papers and his Master's thesis on Alaskan masks reveal his early interest in artifacts.
    Academic files convey Watts' career with nearly annual grant applications and project proposals. Professional correspondence is mainly between Watts and his dealers, including Francesco Conz and Rolfe Ricke, along with certain curators and collectors, such as Gilbert Silverman and Jean Brown. Personal correspondence, though containing photocopies of cards and letters from George Brecht and George Maciunas and originals from Dick Higgins, is relatively scant.
    Series IV, Work files is the core of the archive, containing hundreds of drawings for completed and unrealized projects, scripts or scores, and certain completed objects such as the stamps, letterheads, and laminations. FluxMed (1987), Watts' medical graphics based on 19th century French engravings, is present in various stages of its creation. The greater portion of this series consists of source material, including postcards, clippings, and brochures for various electronic or mechanical devices that inspired Watts and that are accompanied in some cases by drawings or calculations regarding their adaptation to Watts' projects.
    Series V, Photographs and slides contains fourteen photograph albums that Watts assembled. A unique record of the artist's intermingled life and art, they are arranged more thematically than chronologically. Some of these images also appear in the photograph files, including numerous images of Pamela Kraft, Watts' longtime partner and model.
    Series VII, Printed matter contains nine flat files, mostly of Fluxus posters with striking graphics and abundant information on events, artists, and ideas. Also included is a comprehensive collection of clippings containing reviews or articles about Watts or his associates.
    Series X, Audio visual contains all the films Watts made along with the sound tracks or music that accompanied them.
    Three art objects are included in the collection.
    Boxes 2, 3, 4, and 7 are sealed, pending the Estate's further consideration.
    Numbers in brackets within folder entries were assigned by the Estate.

    Arrangement note

    Arranged in eleven series: Series I. Personal, 1889-1989 Series II. Academic files, 1949-1988 Series III. Correspondence, 1960-1988 Series IV. Work files, 1939-1988 Series V. Photographs and slides, 1937-1988 Series VI. Other artists' files, 1957-1989 Series VII. Printed matter, 1883-1988 Series VIII. Books, 1940-1975 Series IX. Serials, 1961-1979 Series X. Audiovisual, 1957-1987 Series XI. Additions, 1962-1987

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Kraft, Pamela
    Maciunas, George
    Watts, Robert

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Fluxus (Group of Artists)
    Implosions (Firm)

    Subjects - Topics

    Conceptual Art
    Happening (Art)
    Performance art
    Art and technology
    Art, American -- 20th century
    Art -- Study and teaching

    Subjects - Titles


    Genres and Forms of Material

    Drawings (visual works) -- 20th century
    Mail art
    Photographic prints -- 20th century
    Mechanical drawings -- 20th century
    Motion pictures (visual works) -- 20th century
    DVDs -- 20th century
    Phonograph records -- 20th century
    Compact discs -- 20th century
    Photographs, Original
    Audiotapes -- 20th century
    Videocassettes -- 20th century


    Maciunas, George
    Ricke, Rolfe
    Silverman, Gilbert
    Watts, Robert
    Conz, Francesco
    Brown, Jean
    Brecht, George
    Kaprow, Allan