Art, Behind the Scenes, Getty Research Institute, Photographs, Film, and Video

Treasures from the Vault: Robert Mapplethorpe Papers and Photographs

Self-portrait / Robert Mapplethorpe

Self-portrait, 1970s, Robert Mapplethorpe. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Held at the Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20

After much anticipation, the Robert Mapplethorpe archive is now available at the Getty Research Institute. Generously donated by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, with artworks jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the archive spans the artist’s career from his student days at Pratt Institute in the 1960s through his more well-known photographs from the 1980s. The archive includes sculpture and assemblages, collages, cut-outs, early drawings and paintings, Polaroids, and examples of large-format photographic prints of flowers, portraits, nudes, and sadomasochistic subjects.

Untitled (Kool Cigarettes) / Robert Mapplethorpe

Untitled (Kool Cigarettes), ca. 1965-75, Robert Mapplethorpe. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Held at the Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20

With grant funding from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the collection was arranged, processed, and cataloged by a team of archivists, library assistants and interns. Working collaboratively allowed each of us to make exciting discoveries about Mapplethorpe’s life and work. Among these discoveries are the comparisons that can be drawn from over 1,000 non-editioned prints in the archive and approximately 2,000 editioned prints held at the Getty Museum.

Ken Moody - variant image / Robert Mapplethorpe

Ken Moody, 1984, Robert Mapplethorpe. Variant image of editioned prints. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Ken Moody / Robert Mapplethorpe

Ken Moody, negative 1984; print 2008, Robert Mapplethorpe. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Held at the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012.52.7

Mapplethorpe’s aesthetic decisions and technical skills are revealed in nearly 3,500 Polaroid test shots, in which many are annotated with lighting angles, filters, exposure times, and aperture settings.

Polaroid test shot for Calla Lily / Robert Mapplethorpe

Polaroid test shot for Calla Lily, 1988, Robert Mapplethorpe. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

We found the way Mapplethorpe arranged his photographs, slides, and Polaroids especially intriguing. They were organized according to a particular subject matter or theme, such as flowers, portraits, and sex. We kept the original order of these materials and arranged the prints according to their established themes to preserve the integrity of the collection and to represent as closely as possible the way Mapplethorpe worked and maintained his personal archive. Of particular interest are three leather portfolios containing some of his earlier prints from the 1970s. It is likely that Mapplethorpe used these portfolios to promote his work commercially. The archive contains Mapplethorpe’s commercial prints, as well as magazine and newspaper articles featuring his work.

Original leather portfolio with prints / Robert Mapplethorpe

Original leather portfolio with prints, ca. 1976–77, Robert Mapplethorpe. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

The correspondence contained in the archive confirms that Mapplethorpe was never short on admirers, and it documents how his personal and professional relationships were often intertwined. While processing this collection, it was almost impossible to completely separate the two; business associates were friends and friends were often business associates.

There are letters from John McKendry, former curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; correspondence from Lisa Lyon, the famous bodybuilding champion and muse to Mapplethorpe in the 1980s; and an abundance of letters and postcards from Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe’s lover and mentor. A key figure in the artist’s personal and professional life, Wagstaff expressed his constant support of Mapplethorpe’s career through his letters. Showing the more affectionate side of their relationship, he addressed Mapplethorpe with terms of endearment like “muffin,” and sealed the envelope of this letter with “monkey hugs.” The GRI also holds the Sam Wagstaff papers; together these archives provide rich resources for scholarship on photography, while revealing information regarding their intimate relationship.

Sam Wagstaff / Robert Mapplethorpe

Sam Wagstaff, 1973, Robert Mapplethorpe. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Held at the Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20

Letter from Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe (front of envelope)

Letter from Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe (front of envelope), 1979. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Letter from Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe (hand-written letter)

Letter from Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe, 1979. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Letter from Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe (back of envelope)

Letter from Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe (back of envelope), 1979. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Lisa Lyon / Robert Mapplethorpe

Lisa Lyon, 1984, Robert Mapplethorpe. Variant image of editioned prints. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Patti Smith chronicled her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in her 2010 publication Just Kids. In her book, Smith references the jewelry-making kit Robert used as a child to make brooches and necklaces strung of Indian beads for his mother. Mapplethorpe continued to make jewelry into his early 20s, which incorporated skulls, dice and coins. The archive contains five necklaces, as well as the tools and beads he used to make them. Several of Mapplethorpe’s sitters were photographed wearing his jewelry, such as artist Ruth Kligman. Many other necklaces are documented in Polaroids and tear sheets in the collection.

Untitled (Ruth Kligman) / Robert Mapplethorpe

Untitled (Ruth Kligman), 1972, Robert Mapplethorpe. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Held at the Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20

Necklace with dice, brass eagle, and beads on a cotton cord / Robert Mapplethorpe

Necklace with dice, brass eagle, and beads on a cotton cord, ca. 1970, Robert Mapplethorpe. The Getty Research Institute, 2011.M.20. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Shortly before the artist’s death in 1989 he established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to support photography as an art form and to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection. The archive contains material collected by the Foundation after 1989 including: newspaper clippings, television news transcripts, and video recordings of news casts and documentaries dealing with the censorship controversies that arose from the 1989 Mapplethorpe exhibition The Perfect Moment. These materials are an important resource when considering the lines between art and pornography and the censorship of artistic expression and compliment the exhibitions of Mapplethorpe’s work currently on view at the Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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2 Comments

  1. Scott
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    Displaying his letter along with the a picture lets the patron know about the photographer’s intimate life. A genuine display of artifacts that I remember using to convey messages: a pencil, a piece of notebook paper, an envelope, remembering a person’s address, licking a stamp, scotch tape, a local newspaper’s clipping, Polaroid photographs (I once thought about thirty years ago that a a black and white Polaroid was the best in photography advancement) and paying for these items mostly using cash at a local market. Not only did Mr. Mapplethorpe’s capture the 1980 period’s modern media but also current social paradigms on issues of censorship and on health.

  2. Fabio Torre
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    I have one of the gay play cards Robert used as invitation cards for his first show at the Chelsea Hotel in 1970.

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