James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983), [Self-portrait], 1931. Gelatin silver print. © James Van Der Zee Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it has received a $2 million grant from the Mellon Foundation in support of its collaborative initiative with the Studio Museum in Harlem to research, preserve and provide full public access to the life work of photographer James Van Der Zee (1886–1983). The funds will enable the immediate preservation of some 6,000 deteriorated negatives and support the formation of a team to catalog, relocate and digitize the entire archive, which includes approximately 20,000 prints made during Van Der Zee’s lifetime, 30 000 negatives, studio material and ephemera, which will be managed by the Met’s photography department. Throughout his long career, Van Der Zee celebrated black culture in Harlem from the first decade of the 20th century to the early 1980s and simultaneously created one of the greatest bodies of work in the history of the American photography.
Max Hollein, French director of Marina Kellen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: “Van Der Zee was a virtuoso portrait painter and one of the most remarkable photographers of the 20th century. With support from the Mellon Foundation and as custodians of the James Van Der Zee Archive, The Met and the Studio Museum in Harlem will undertake the important and necessary work of curating, preserving and cataloging the artist’s archive. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for this extraordinary grant which will help us fulfill our commitment to make the entire archive accessible to scholars and the general public.
Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, said, “Our ongoing work to increase public knowledge of James Van Der Zee and advance critical understanding of his art is inextricably linked to the preservation, organization and the study of the complex and often fragile materials in its archives. This Mellon Foundation grant moves us immeasurably forward in the vital effort we share with the Met.
About the James Van Der Zee Archive
The creation of the James Van Der Zee Archive was jointly announced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem and Ms. Donna Van Der Zee in December 2021. A historic collaboration between the Met and the Studio Museum to research, preserve, and offer full public access to James Van Der Zee’s remarkable photographs. A world-renowned chronicler of black life in New York during the Harlem Renaissance and for decades thereafter, Van Der Zee was a virtuoso portrait painter and one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. The James Van Der Zee Archive is the third archive of an American photographer to be acquired by the Met – preceded by those of Walker Evans and Diane Arbus, which were acquired by the Museum in 1994 and 2007, respectively – and its first effort with a partner institution to safeguard the legacy of an individual artist.