Getty Research Institute acquires work by Fritz Block

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Getty Research Institute acquires work by Fritz Block
The series dedicated to art, architecture, design, and technology of Los Angeles from 1943 to 1954.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Getty Research Institute has acquired by donation from The Manfred Heiting Trust twenty-seven complete sets of Kodachrome slides produced by Fritz Block from 1943 to 1954 when he lived and worked in Los Angeles.

“Block's aim was not only to produce color photography of aesthetic significance, but also to make color slides for progressive visual education,” says Mary Miller, Director of the Getty Research institute. “The development of slide film in the 1940s had led to a range of innovations in pedagogy. Schools, colleges, and universities purchased projectors and set up slide libraries. Block positioned himself to fill the gap of slides readily available for purchase.”

Block’s slides number approximately 6,000, the majority of which were taken with a 35-mm Leica camera. Series topics include arts from underrepresented fields - African Art, Art of the South Pacific, Religious Folk Art, North American Indian Art, The Art of Ancient Peru, Chinese Art - as well as subjects familiar in modern art: Forms in Nature, Modern Sculpture, Industrial Design, Ceramic Arts, Architecture, Materials and Their Creative Use. The donation includes all existing original master color transparencies made by the photographer and architect; it represents the only complete set of original master color material. Related archival materials, such as typescripts, letters, and notes, are included.

Maristella Casciato, Senior Curator, Head of Architectural Collections, welcomes the research potential of this work. “Fritz Block’s gaze on Los Angeles mid-century modernism,” she comments, “offers a fresh and new approach to many masterpiece buildings by world-renowned architects, juxtaposing his informal shots, often street views, with more elaborately staged images by some of his colleagues.”

A substantial collection of Fritz Block black & white photographs taken between 1929 and 1938 has been acquired by the Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek (Saxon State University Library, or SLUB) in Dresden, Germany. Both GRI and SLUB will coordinate access to these complementary collections.

Fritz Block was born in Warburg, Germany, in 1889. From 1908 to 1913 he studied architecture at the technical university in Dresden, where in 1915 he received his doctorate in civil engineering. During the following four years he worked in the department of Planning and Construction of Koenigsberg, before moving to Hamburg, where, in 1921, he founded his architectural firm, Dr. Block and Hochfeld, with Ernst Hochfeld (1890-1985). The firm remained active until 1938. Around 1929, Block’s passion for photography became a professional activity. His photo reportages received early favor in German architectural journals, in the weekly supplement of the daily newspaper Hamburger Anzeiger, and in other illustrated magazines. From September to October 1931, Block took his first extensive voyage through the United States, which resulted in a total output of nearly 4,000 photographs, shot with his Leica. In 1933 he was forced to cease both his architectural practice and his passion for photojournalism due to the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany. Nevertheless, he was able to travel extensively until November 11, 1938, when he was subjected to a temporary detention in a Nazi concentration camp. Released on November 16, Block and his family emigrated to Los Angeles. Not licensed to open an architectural practice in California, Block switched his professional focus to color photography, soon after Kodachrome slides were available on the market. In the early 1940s he produced a thematic color slide series intended for art education in schools and museums, followed by the first color slide series on architectural modernism in California. In 1943, he established Dr. Block Color Productions to distribute his 27 color slide series on architecture, art, sculpture, design, technology, and nature. In 1952 the second series on modern architecture in California was completed. Fritz Block died on January 23, 1955.

The collection will be cataloged over the course of the next few years.

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