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The End of Art History: Getty Abandons Preeminent Research Database

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Are we about to see the end of visual arts scholarship as we know it?

As reported on several art history-related websites (but not, as far as I’ve seen, in the mainstream media), one of the most lamentable results of the J. Paul Getty Trust’s budgetary cutbacks is the Getty Research Institute’s withdrawal of financial support for what it had previously called “one of the most powerful tools
at the art historian’s disposal”—the Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA), which in 2008 was renamed the International Bibliography of Art (IBA). This research database, indexing art historical records and abstracts and maintained by the Getty, was successor to the International Repertory of the Literature of Art (RILA) and the
Répertoire d’Art et d’Archéologie (RAA).

The College Art Association’s account of this scholarly emergency, posted yesterday by Christopher Howard, reports:

With the closing, hundreds of thousands of records and abstracts in
the database will soon be unavailable to scholars
worldwide–indefinitely.
Subscribers to BHA, which include many academic libraries and
research institutions, received notice about the shutdown from the
Getty earlier this month.

While there are some alternatives–among them
Art Index, Avery Index, and ARTbibliographies Modern–the loss of this
invaluable resource is immense and will be deeply felt throughout the
international art-history community….

Since June CAA has made numerous communiqués by phone and email to the
Getty regarding the demise of BHA, receiving only one inconclusive
response.

In response to my query yesterday, Ron Hartwig, the Getty Trust’s vice president for communications, said this:

What is currently on our website about the BHA stands. We can’t say at
this time what the disposition of BHA will be after Mar. 31. But as
soon as we know anything, we will make sure that an announcement is
broadly distributed.

The Getty’s website statement says nothing about Mar. 31. It states: “Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, the Getty will no longer support the ongoing
IBA.” But Cornell University’s library website states [via]: “We received
notification that our licensed access to the BHA will continue through
Mar. 31, 2010.

According to the Getty:

With the GRI facing severe budget challenges and without strong and
committed partners to share the work, it has become impossible for the
Getty to maintain the IBA on its own. Nevertheless, the GRI continues
to be interested in seeing the IBA continue its service to the art
historical field.

The Getty hopes the database “will be transferred to an organization that can provide continuing support
for this valuable resource.”

If there were ever a project crying out for a timely rescue by a foundation, university, or other defender of art scholarship, this is it.

Speaking of timely rescues, CultureGrrl intends to cease posting and sulk for a week, beginning this Monday, unless five benefactors see fit to click my “Donate” button (in which case I intend to take off only Monday and Tuesday, the first two nights of Passover).

I can’t go on bloggin’ for nothin’.

an ArtsJournal blog