James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983), [Self-portrait], 1931. Gelatin silver print. © James Van Der Zee Archive, The 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, conserve, and provide full public access to the life’s work of the photographer James Van Der Zee (1886–1983). The funds will make possible the immediate conservation of some 6,000 deteriorating negatives and support the formation of a team to catalogue, rehouse, and digitize the entire archive, which includes approximately 20,000 prints made during Van Der Zee’s lifetime, 30,000 negatives, studio equipment, and ephemera, that will be led by The Met’s Department of Photographs. 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 largest surviving bodies of work in the history of American photography. 

Max Hollein, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Marina Kellen French Director, stated, “Van Der Zee was a virtuoso portraitist and one of the most remarkable photographers of the 20th century. With the support of the Mellon Foundation and as stewards of the James Van Der Zee Archive, The Met and The Studio Museum in Harlem will embark on the important and necessary work of conserving, preserving, and cataloguing the artist’s archive. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for this extraordinary grant which will help us fulfill our commitment to making 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 in heightening public knowledge of James Van Der Zee and advancing critical understanding of his art is inextricably linked with the preservation, organization and study of the complex and often fragile materials in his archive. This grant from the Mellon Foundation moves us forward immeasurably in the vital effort we share with The Met.”

About the James Van Der Zee Archive

The establishment of the James Van Der Zee Archive was jointly announced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Mrs. Donna Van Der Zee in December 2021. A landmark collaboration between The Met and The Studio Museum to research, conserve, and provide full public access to the remarkable photographs of James Van Der Zee. The world-renowned chronicler of Black life in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance and for decades thereafter, Van Der Zee was a virtuoso portraitist 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.