Art, Getty Research Institute, Photographs, Film, and Video

Treasures from the Vault: Anticipating Mapplethorpe

Many researchers are looking forward to delving in to the Robert Mapplethorpe archive we acquired in February. However, there is an important complementary collection of equal interest available right now: the Samuel Wagstaff papers.

Self-portraits by Sam Wagstaff, 1960s or 1970s. The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 2005.M.46 Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Self-portrait, Samuel J. Wagstaff, 1960s or 1970s. The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1860-1987, 2005.M.46. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Self-portraits by Samuel J. Wagstaff, 1960s or 1970s. The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 2005.M.46. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Wagstaff was a formidable curator and collector of photographs, as well as Robert Mapplethorpe’s partner for more than a decade (despite a 25-year difference in age between the two)—a story chronicled in the 2007 documentary Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe. Wagstaff was also one of Mapplethorpe’s most avid supporters, helping to shape much of his professional career. Mapplethorpe, in turn, influenced Wagstaff’s acclaimed collecting tastes.

Wagstaff sought what’s been described as the more “idiosyncratic,” “challenging” and “proactive” photographic works. After a brief career as curator, he began avidly collecting photographs in the 1970s, with an initial focus on 19th- and early 20th-century French, British and American photography. He amassed a comprehensive body of work at a time when scholarship on the subject of photography was limited, and the medium lacked the art historical stature it has today. The curator-turned-collector once stated that “the aesthetical photograph was a well-loved pleasure, which it seemed worthwhile investigating and worthwhile greedily having.”

Wagstaff ultimately amassed a collection of thousands of masterworks. In 1984 his collection of original photographs was acquired by the Getty Museum and became an integral holding from which the Department of Photographs was partly born.

Historic photograph in Wagstaff's collection, dated 1913.

Historic photograph in Wagstaff's collection, dated 1913. The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 2005.M.46. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

The archive in the special collections of the Getty Research Institute documents the sources Wagstaff used to acquire photographs for his revered collection and the corresponding invoices and receipts from his purchases. The collection provides documentation and correspondence that track the exhibition schedule of objects in his collections as well as the constant requests Wagstaff received from others to study, exhibit, or publish his works.

Letter from Samuel Wagstaff to gallerist Ray Hawkins dated October 14, 1977, describing his Book of photographs from the collection of Sam Wagstaff

Letter from Samuel Wagstaff to gallerist G. Ray Hawkins dated October 14, 1977, describing his Book of photographs from the collection of Sam Wagstaff. He calls himself an idiot to be publishing such a book for $15. The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 2005.M.46. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Exhibition planning notes by Samuel J. Wagstaff

Exhibition planning notes by Samuel J. Wagstaff / The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1960-1987, 2005.M.46. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Exhibition planning notes by Samuel J. Wagstaff, 1980s / The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 2005.M.46. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Exhibition planning notes by Samuel J. Wagstaff. The top two pages are from Wagstaff II, 1981–86; the third page is from Erotica Show, 1981–84. The Getty Research Institute, Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 2005.M.46. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

Yet, perhaps the most enticing component of the Wagstaff papers is the large snapshot collection Wagstaff created and maintained. The snapshots include images of his travels and cultured circle of friends including iconic portraits of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, as wells as portraits of himself.

It is also rich in erotic portraiture. Philip Gefter’s article in the 2010 issue of the Getty Research Journal notes Wagstaff’s erotic snapshots may have been a fundamental influence on Mapplethorpe’s photographic oeuvre, citing a “visual dialogue” between the two photographers.

The interconnectedness in the work and vision of the two men is inescapable. Both collections will provide ample opportunity for comparisons and rich scholarship.

“Treasures from the Vault” is an occasional series spotlighting the varied and unique holdings of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute.

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit idiosyncratic. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.

      09/17/14

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