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    In Circulation

    In Circulation features in-depth articles and the latest news about the Museum Libraries' wide range of research activities and comprehensive collection of books, periodicals, electronic resources, and ephemera related to the history of art.

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The Robert Goldwater Library & The Visual Resource Archive

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

The Robert Goldwater Library is part of the Museum’s Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. It is a noncirculating research library dedicated to the documentation of the visual arts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Native and Precolumbian America.  The Library collection comprises over 20,000 books published worldwide, with an additional 10,000 volumes of periodicals, including current subscriptions to nearly 100 journals. Recent issues of many of these serial titles are held in the Watson Library Periodicals Room. Subject strengths include the art and material culture of West Africa, Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya (Indonesia), and Precolumbian Mexico and Peru, with extensive holdings in related disciplines such as anthropology, ethnology, and archaeology. The Library’s collection includes exhibition and auction sales catalogs, as well as academic theses and dissertations.  Click here for collection development policy.

Visitors are directed to search the holdings of The Goldwater Library in Watsonline, the Museum libraries’ online catalog. Items must be requested  through Watsonline for use in Watson Library.


For reference assistance by phone, please contact Watson Library: (212) 650-2225.

The library of the Museum of Primitive Art, located on West 54th Street in Manhattan, opened to the public in 1957. The Museum, founded by Nelson Rockefeller, was devoted entirely to the arts of the indigenous cultures of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas and to those art objects related to the early civilizations of Asia and Europe. The museum closed in 1975. The library’s holdings were transferred, with other holdings of that institution, to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978. In January 1982 the library reopened to the public as the Robert Goldwater Library. Robert Goldwater (1907-1973) was the first director of the Museum of Primitive Art and a renowned scholar in both modern and African art. His Primitivism in Modern Art, initially published in 1938, was the pioneering study of the subject.

The Visual Resource Archive (VRA), formerly known as the Photograph Study Collection, is part of the Museum’s Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, and contains an array of holdings, including photography, audiovisual recordings, and archival collections that are based on contextual materials in all the fields the department covers. The VRA holds more than 200,000 images, ranging from glass and paper negatives, albumen and silver gelatin prints, 35-mm slides, to born digital image files. Several thousand historic postcards, the Photograph Study Collection itself, and images taken by noted authorities Paul Wirz, Anthony Forge, Merle Green Robertson, and Paul Gebauer, are included, as are images taken by Michael C. Rockefeller. Archival collections include the professional papers, manuscripts, correspondence, and images of internationally known anthropologists/scholars such as Phillip J.C. Dark, Tobias Schneebaum, and Paul Fejos, as well as the records of New York’s Museum of Primitive Art.

Access to the Visual Resource Archive is not currently available. For inquiries please contact: