By May S. Ruiz
The Huntington in San Marino officially launched its yearlong centennial celebration on Thursday, September 5, 2019. During her welcome speech at Rothenberg Hall, Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence expressed how Henry E. Huntington’s vision and legacy will live on in the next century.
“As I look out at you, the leaders of Southern California’s, and particularly L.A.’s, cultural, academic, and civic institutions, Huntington’s presence is demonstrably in evidence,” began Lawrence. “As the Director of our Botanical Gardens Jim Folsom recently reminded me, almost anything can grow in Southern California. He was correct.
“We brought everybody here today to celebrate the extraordinary fertility and vitality of our region – both a U.S. cultural capital and, as Huntington predicted, the leading edge of the Pacific Rim. Had his visionary red car trolley system been equally as durable, many of you, especially the west-siders, would have an easier commute.”
Continued Lawrence, “So 1919 was a very good year for the birth of L.A. institutions – from UCLA to the L.A. Philharmonic, to the iconic Musso & Frank Grill and Fosselman’s Ice Cream. In celebrating our hundredth, it’s not all about us; it’s about all of us. Because neighbors and partners have always been crucial in the life of The Huntington. As we celebrate the trust agreement in which Henry and Arabella Huntington gave their private treasures – at the time the New York Times called the greatest private library in the world, art and art collection, and expansive gardens and grounds – we also recognize that we wouldn’t be here were it not for George Ellery Hale, the renowned astronomer, who helped develop Caltech and who was the founding director of the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena.
“In the Huntington’s archives, we have Hale’s correspondence with Huntington which shows that from 1906 to 1916, Hale politely badgered Huntington to place his private collection in a trust for the use and benefit of the many. As significantly though, he helped convince Huntington, the wealthy industrialist and collector, to see the value of his collection in a different way – more for the research and scholarship it would inspire than for its accumulation. Hale urged Huntington to establish a public institution; he wrote ‘There is now great need of a strong institution of broad scope, uniting all the intellectual interests of this region and the common folks.’ When he was later asked about the worth of his collection, Huntington replied that its value will be determined primarily by what he produces. Although these two men couldn’t possibly foresee what was produced during those hundred years, it’s a testament to their legacy and Arabella’s, that The Huntington attracts 1,700 visiting scholars in addition to over 750,000 visitors from around the world.
“So today we take a moment to acknowledge this Southern California history as well as to think about our future and the ideas that will propel us all for the next hundred years. For a person turning 100, it’s very natural to look back and reflect on the past. For an institution turning a hundred, a centennial is a moment to be like Janus – looking back and forward at the same time. Today we’re celebrating how far we’ve come and reflect on where we want to go. We’re thinking carefully about our mission and what it means to be among the oldest cultural and intellectual centers in this great region, which itself reflects the dynamic demographic evolution of our city, state, and country. We want to broaden our audiences and to focus on The Huntington’s ongoing role in the cultural fabric of Southern California and beyond.”
Lawrence declared, “The name of an institution reflects its relation to its audiences as well as its mission and ethos. In 1919 we began our journey as the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. And, over time, we became more commonly known as the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Today I am pleased to announce a change in what we’re calling ourselves, that reflects both the increased breadth and depth of our art collections and their public purpose. We’re changing our name to The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.”
As Lawrence said this, the name displayed on the screen behind her also changed and was met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.
The change from ‘collections’ to ‘museum’ more accurately describes The Huntington’s mission and programs, explained Lawrence. “Our art collections are more than a group of catalogued objects; they are carefully curated, interpreted, and exhibited for scholarship, education, and the broader public. An added benefit to this change is that we become more discoverable, particularly in online searches. This is important as we work to widen our audiences and accessibility.”
The Centennial Celebration, a yearlong series of exhibitions, public programs, and new initiatives running from September 2019 to September 2020, kicked off with an announcement of a collaboration between The Huntington and the Hammer Museum on ‘Made in L.A. 2020,’ the upcoming edition of the Hammer’s acclaimed biennial. The statement was made by Hammer Director Ann Philbin alongside Lawrence.
Opening June 7 and running through Aug. 30, ‘Made in L.A. 2020’ will take place at both institutions, providing visitors across the region an opportunity to experience the singular exhibition of contemporary art in Los Angeles. The exhibition, sponsored by Bank of America, will debut new installations, videos, films, sculptures, performances, and paintings from Los Angeles–based artists, many commissioned specifically for the exhibition.
‘Made in L.A. 2020’ is the fifth iteration of the internationally lauded Hammer biennial, and the second to take place at multiple venues. The biennial’s inaugural 2012 edition presented artists at the Hammer, LAXART, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Art Park, and the Venice Beach Biennial. The 2020 edition seizes on an opportunity to connect an institution on the west side of Los Angeles with one on the east. It is co-curated by Tunisian-French writer and curator Myriam Ben Salah and Los Angeles–based curator Lauren Mackler. The Hammer’s Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi is assistant curator for performance.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with The Huntington on ‘Made in L.A. 2020’ to bridge the east and west sides of Los Angeles to highlight the works of art created across the region, with an emphasis on emerging and under-recognized artists,” said Hammer Director Ann Philbin. “This expression of our biennial―which spans roughly 25 miles―offers opportunities for discovery and surprise for ‘Made in L.A.’ visitors and gives the curators and artists a new platform for experimentation.”
“Creative collaborations are a hallmark of our Centennial Celebration,” Lawrence disclosed. “We will be engaging with our collections as well as with our audiences in exciting new ways. Joining forces with the Hammer for this remarkable exhibition is a perfect example of what we are setting out to do. ‘Made in L.A.’ celebrates the extraordinary, groundbreaking work of contemporary artists working in Southern California. We are honored to be a part of this year’s exhibition.”
“Los Angeles is the epicenter of the creative economy, with the arts bringing Angelenos together, attracting tourism, generating cultural dialogue, and serving as an economic driver for our region,” declared Raul A. Anaya, Bank of America market president for greater Los Angeles. “It’s why Bank of America invests in the arts and in institutions like the Hammer and The Huntington, and this specific partnership for ‘Made in L.A. 2020’ reflects our mutual commitment to L.A.’s incredibly diverse local artists.”
During the run of ‘Made in L.A. 2020,’ members and visitors to the Hammer will receive passes granting free admission to The Huntington to view ‘Made in L.A. 2020’ in full. There will also be joint programming at both the Hammer and The Huntington during the exhibition.
Looking ahead to the next 100 years, the directors of The Huntington’s three components – Library, Museum, and Botanical Gardens – spoke about the future and how The Huntington’s collections will contribute to their fields.
As the Avery Director of the Library, Sandra Luding Brooke oversees the 11 million items in the library collection. She said, “In 1925 Henry Huntington endorsed a vision for a repository of books and manuscripts of the greatest rarity and value focused on tracing the progress of our English-speaking people. Since then The Huntington’s collection has grown and persisted in more ways than what could have been imagined a century ago.
“Libraries must anticipate tomorrow and try to imagine what future researchers and viewers might want or need to know,” pronounced Brooke. “We must be judicious and imaginative in choosing what we preserve, and be fearless in seeking diverse and provocative voices. Libraries must batten their hatches to protect collections from the vicissitudes that are sure to come – natural disasters, social and economic upheavals, censorship, ignorance, and willful misapprehension. We also want to seize this moment and help our collections speak to current generations because cultivating a love and respect for documented history is the surest route to its survival and, perhaps, our own. So in the spirit of stepping out with optimism into our second century, the Library has made a small acquisition that won’t get on our shelves until just four years shy of The Huntington’s bicentennial. Until then the library’s purchase will be growing in the Norwegian wood. Artist Katie Patterson’s future library is a hundred-year literary artwork of an active indefatigable optimism. Five years ago, Patterson planted a forest of a thousand spruce trees in Norway. This forest will be held in trust until the year 2114 when the trees will be harvested, turned into paper, and provide the stock for the publication of 100 texts, until then held secret, by 100 writers. This little acquisition is a vote of confidence in the future of the environment, of art, of books and the written word, and of libraries. Yes, we are confident our librarian’s successors will not fail to claim The Huntington’s copy of this long-awaited anthology. But between now and 2114, we are equally confident that millions of other texts, images, and objects undiscovered and, as yet, uncurated will cross The Huntington’s threshold to join this great past, present, and future library.”
Christina Nielsen who, when she took the podium and introduced herself, said that for the past 10 minutes, she has been the director of The Huntington’s Art Museum. She started, “Now that we’re a museum I’d like to spend the next few minute considering what that term means. What it meant to Arabella and Henry, what it means today, and what it will likely mean in the future. Henry Huntington, entrepreneur and futurist, proponent of new technologies; Arabella Huntington, perhaps the greatest gilded-age collector you’ve never heard of – together they stand out among the likes of their peers such as Walters, Morgans, Fricks, and Gardners by bringing together objects from the past to actively shape a future. They founded the first Old Master Collection in Los Angeles which included Asian ceramics, Italian Renaissance pieces, French decorative arts, and British portraits from the 18th century, which allowed for connections across time and place. And they put their historic works in conversation with art from their day by placing sculpture on the grounds from artists of their time, including their daughter-in-law Anna Hyatt Huntington. They also gave us a framework for considering how to move forward, encouraging us to continue making connections across time and place, to invest in new technologies, and to share their collection with the public.
“So now the present moment. And might I suggest that, in many ways, the future is now and the future is here. The definition of ‘museum’ is quickly changing, as is the nature of our work. The International Council of Museums just released a new definition of museum as a ‘democratizing, inclusive, and polyphonic space for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures.’”
“Our collection is indeed a treasure trove to be mined for thinking about making connections across time and place, how trade and exchange shaped objects, lives, and intellectual pursuits,” noted Nielsen. “But which stories do we choose to tell and who tells them? Recent partnerships here at Huntington, such as one with the Vincent Price Art Museum, allowed Carolina Caycedo, one of the great artists in the L.A. area, to produce a new work of art Apariciones/Apparitions which inserts back into the history of our founding narrative people and labor who’ve been lost over time.
“More specifically, ‘Blue Boy,’ our most iconic work, has continued to inspire over time, artists, much more recent than when he arrived in 1921. A young artist on leave from military duty in San Diego came to the Huntington and had an epiphany from the ‘Blue Boy.’ So did a young teenager who would come on visits to The Huntington on Saturday. And so we’re thinking very deeply about how to unlock more epiphanies from our people, in our galleries, and through expanded online resources. How do we share our collections beyond our walls? How do we reach other aspiring artists from South Los Angeles, San Diego, and from other places really far away – like Kansas City, Kosovo, or Kyoto. So in the context of The Huntington itself, what does our art collection mean? This is a multi-disciplinary institution and as the definition of art keeps changing and evolving, I was reminded recently by Jim Folsom that The Huntington itself is the original conceptual work of art.”
Nielsen said further, “This is the hotbed of the artistic world and we are so pleased to be working with the Hammer on ‘Made in L.A.,’ exemplifying what an extraordinary moment this is for our region. But I might suggest that ‘Made in L.A. 2020’ has a really important antecedent and that could be considered ‘Made in London 1770,’ because going back to Gainsborough and his fabulous ‘Blue Boy’ painting, what we’ve recently learned is that in fact Gainsborough, hundreds of years ago, just like the artists in our midst today, was absolutely pushing the envelope of what it meant to be a painter and what the medium could provide. And so I would say it makes absolute sense for us at The Huntington to be working with The Hammer and offering up our resources for artists, writers, performers, dancers, thinkers, in our midst.
“The past is not dead. In fact, as Socrates said, ‘It isn’t even past.’ It’s alive and waiting to be unlocked in the objects in our collection. I can’t begin to predict now how successors of ours a hundred years from now will do that, any more than Henry and Arabella could have predicted us sending rockets to the moon. But they believed in technology; they believed in sharing their collection to the public; and they believed in connections across time and space. I feel that if we hold true to these principles, we will be just fine over the course of the next hundred years. And, in closing, I offer another definition for our museum – that it should be not just a repository of things, but a collection of ideas and a place for sharing them with others.”
When it was his turn to speak, Director of Botanical Gardens James Folsom, who noted that he’s the old-timer at The Huntington, stated, “Last year we planted several hundred trees and we intend to plant more this year. We plant trees because during a storm in 2011, 700 trees fell in one evening. We plant because new opportunities arise – wonderful new trees become available. We plant trees because they provide structure to the landscape, which takes years to develop. We plant trees because on the 6th of July last year, the gardens experienced a record-high temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit leaving vegetation scorched throughout the landscape.
“We plant trees because that’s what gardeners do – observe, think, plant, cultivate, take our losses, make our moves, plan for change, and invest in energy and resources to create something that would be of worth for future generations. So what is that future, how far is that horizon? For trees, it’s 80 to 100 years – easily to the end of the century. But in all of our actions, even short-term plantings, we should build soil and capacity. Every act can be viewed as an investment. Gardens also plant ideas and inspiration – the beauty and power of life unfolding, the importance of cycles, the value in the glorious smell of fresh water and arable soil. The pay-off in planting is seeing the product of pure physical toil and recognizing the importance of plants as the givers of life and the bases of biodiversity.
“To me, the lessons we learn from gardening are crucial. In a perfect future, I imagine these Huntington gardens and the act of gardening will help form a better world. Fortunately, the structure we need for those lessons exists. The Huntington has collections, displays, beautiful facilities, and staff to see us to our second centennial.”