Graduate Center Alum Named Associate Curator at New Getty African American Art Initiative
LeRonn P. Brooks (Ph.D. '09, Art History) is the first full-time staff member joining the institute under its new initiative.
LeRonn P. Brooks (Ph.D. ’09, Art History), who is currently a professor in the Department of Africana Studies at CUNY’s Lehman College, was recently named an associate curator for Modern and Contemporary Collections at the Getty Research Institute, part of the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
Brooks is the first full-time staff member joining the institute under its new African American Art History initiative, launched in 2018. In addition to Brooks’ scholarly work, he has curated exhibitions including “On Whiteness,” at the Racial Imaginary Institute, and “Bronx: Africa,” for the Bronx Council on the Arts.
Brooks recently spoke to The Graduate Center about his new position, his background in the arts, and moving his research from an academic to a museum role:
Graduate Center: You’re the first full-time staff member hired as part of the Getty Research Institute’s new initiative, which is aimed at establishing the institute as a major center for African-American art and art history. What does this position mean to you?
Brooks: My entire life I’ve been in some particular way tied to the issue of African American art. I was a painter. As an undergraduate, I studied painting with artists like Roy DeCarava and Nari Ward. This position means a lot: I get to acquire and be the steward of the important archives of artists who have meant a lot to me in both my creative life and my scholarly life. I get to add to this large well of knowledge and information and store it, and have it available for the public to be encouraged by, learn from, and connect to their own humanity.
GC: What do you plan to work on in the upcoming year?
Brooks: One of the first things I’ll have to do once I begin the position formally is to see the entirety of the collection and what is under my care. We have the collection of Betye Saar, a legendary African American artist, and I’m going to begin working with those materials, in terms of acquiring them and beginning to make them available to the public.
GC: You’ve said you’ve found it beneficial to use your scholarship, understanding of historical contexts, and curatorial practice to examine the intersections between representations of African American visual cultures and society. Can you discuss those intersections?
Brooks: To study art, to study African American art, you’re dealing with individuals who’ve made statements and artwork about the nature of their relationship to themselves and to their world, through the communication of their innermost feelings. And to use my understanding of historical contexts — my understanding of what society was doing at a particular moment — informs my understanding of what art reveals about humanity.
GC: What are your thoughts on moving from academia to a museum role?
|Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Photo by Stacey Rain Strickler, Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust|
Brooks: I feel the transition is necessary for my own personal creative growth. I think I can do things as a practitioner in which I can use all of my scholarly interests and history of making to grow as a thinker. In my work with the Getty Research Institute, I’ll be working with a scholar-in-residence and an artist-in-residence, and dealing with archival materials. Being a curator allows me to work directly with materials in not just a scholarly way, but in more creative ways.
GC: Could you discuss how your time at The Graduate Center contributed to what you’ve accomplished so far in your career, and what you hope to do?
Brooks: The process of earning a Ph.D. is one of rigor and persistence. And there are things that I’ve learned in terms of rigor and persistence that are still with me, such as the language translation exams, the classes. I studied with people who are now curators at major museums and who are my professional peers. During my thesis work with Professor Katherine Manthorne (Art History), one of the things we emphasized was the use of primary materials in the dissertation itself. To be the person who acquires primary materials that can be used for future dissertations and books is something that’s really exciting.
In a May 2022 Getty news story, Brooks spoke about his inception of the museum’s African American art history archive, why he chose to get a Ph.D. at the Graduate Center, and his experience in the program.
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