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Ada Louise Huxtable’s Posthumous Commentary? Her Entire Estate to the Getty

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Ada Louise Huxtable and architect Richard Meier: A marriage made in heaven?
Meier’s Getty Research Institute

The startling news that the late, preeminent architecture critic and inveterate New Yorker Ada Louise Huxtable arranged for the transfer of not only her archives but her entire estate to the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles raises the obvious question:

What was she thinking?

In his obit for the LA Times, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne noted that the bequest was “something of a surprise, given the critic’s close association with New York and the East Coast.”

In its celebratory press release, the Getty writes:

Her papers, as well as those of her husband, industrial designer L. Garth Huxtable [who died in 1989], which include notes, correspondence, research files, manuscripts, drawings and photographs, will become part of the GRI’s [Getty Research Institute's] rich architectural collections.

The Getty acquired these extensive archives from Huxtable in December 2012 and they will become widely available to researchers once they are processed and cataloged. In addition, Huxtable bequeathed the entirety of her estate as well as her intellectual property rights to the Getty, in order to advance the study of architecture.

In my fervid imagination, I can see this arrangement, finalized in the month before her death, as Ada Louise’s last flourish of acerbic commentary. At the beginning of December, when I read her scathing account in the Wall Street Journal of how she was treated by the New York Public Library in her quest for detailed information about its renovation plans, I was struck (as I wrote on Monday in my own appreciation of her life) by the unusualness of a journalist’s allowing herself “the rare luxury of complaining in print (at some length) about the runaround she had gotten.”

Further fueling my (purely speculative) notion about a possible last-minute change of plans for Huxtable’s estate is an e-mail that I just received from a Getty spokesperson in response to my questions regarding the transfer: Discussions between the Getty and Ada Louise only began “late last year and were finalized in December,” the spokesperson revealed. The Getty has “no idea” about any previous plans for the estate to go elsewhere.

A spokesperson for the New York Public Library, responding by phone to my queries about whether that institution had engaged in any discussions with Huxtable regarding the disposition of her archives, told me that such talks, if any, would have been confidential. She added, however, that “no agreement was in place for her to give her papers to the library.”

In its e-mail to me, the Getty provided more details about its arrangement with Huxtable:

The agreement was a combination: We purchased Mrs. Huxtable’s archives. (As you know, we don’t disclose price.) She gave us Garth Huxtable’s papers and she bequeathed virtually her entire estate to the Getty. The estate includes her homes. Her estate will be liquidating her assets and the Getty will receive the proceeds.

I have further queries pending with others. If I learn more, you’ll learn more. [UPDATE: More on this, here.]

Meanwhile, please savor with me the perfect homage that the Wall Street Journal‘s “Leisure & Arts” page has paid today to its celebrated architecture critic—a full-page compendium of passages from her brilliant reviews. The editor’s note (which I assumed was penned by Eric Gibson) stands as a perfect summation of her genius:

Though a self-described “unrepentant modernist”—a passionate advocate of
the steel-and-glass aesthetic—Huxtable was no ideologue….As a critic, Huxtable combined the forensic skill of a Clarence Darrow with the righteous passion of an Old Testament prophet. Her prose was clarion-clear and uncompromising, yet leavened by wit and verve.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post said that Eric Gibson had recruited Huxtable to be the WSJ’s architecture critic. The credit for that coup belongs to Eric’s predecessor, Ray Sokolov.

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