William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

The Mapplethorpe Deal

Pin It

Thoughts on LACMA and the Getty’s joint acquisition of 3200 Robert Mapplethorpe photos and the artist’s archive:

• Mapplethorpe made his name with pictures of naked black guys and S&M. You’d have a hard time learning that from the press accounts and museum blogs of the LACMA-Getty acquisition. I mean, if this was about O. Winston Link, they’d mention railroads, right? Left is Italian Devil (1988)—to remind you what a little devil Mapplethorpe was, in the American conversation—and below is Thomas (1987), a blend of the porn, surrealism, and gay acting-up on which Mapplethorpe’s reputation will rise or fall. The offended may want to consult Glenn Beck, or preferably Glenn Ligon.

• Aside from the news itself, the biggest surprise is that David Geffen bankrolled LACMA’s end of the deal. Geffen is the city’s most discerning big-time collector of contemporary art. Though his name is on a MOCA building, he doesn’t get 1 percent of the buzz that Eli Broad or the Resnicks do (not that a collector should crave attention—good grief!) The inevitable question: Is Geffen taking renewed interest in the city’s museums?

• Despite L.A.’s stature in photography, it has few archives of major artists. Tucson has Edward Weston, Garry Winogrand, Harry Callahan, and Ansel Adams. Until now, there was nothing of that stature in L.A.

• Why Los Angeles? Floral Park, NY-born Mapplethorpe had no particular connection to the West Coast. Yes, his partner-sponsor Sam Wagstaff’s collection became the cornerstone of the Getty photography department. The genius of the deal seems to be Michael Govan. According to the press release, Mapplethorpe Foundation president Michael Ward Stout is friends with Govan and mentioned that they were scouting institutions to host the archive. “Why not us?” Govan asked.

• Deja vu: Govan was also involved in persuading the Mapplethorpe Foundation to make a big gift to the Guggenheim Museum in 1992. The Guggenheim website reports that that gift made it “the most comprehensive public repository of this important American artist’s work.” The Guggenheim deal included a financial grant from the foundation to the museum (whereas L.A.’s museums have to pay…) The Guggenheim gift was an edited set of 200 photos; the LACMA-Getty deal will include about 3200 photos and 120,000 negatives, as well as papers/videos/ephemera.

• Since LACMA’s whole photography department had about 6000 prints, the Mapplethorpes increase that number substantially. Mapplethorpe becomes the best-represented major artist in the Getty collection, topping August Sanders and Walker Evans (about 1300 prints each).

• The news will renew debate on the merits of museums sharing collections. I’m not sure this has much to say about that in the meta-abstract. LACMA and the Getty prudently joined forces to court the Mapplethorpe Foundation. The Getty has expertise and state-of-the-art facilities for preserving photographs, personal papers, and videos. There are those who think that shared ownership of unique objects (like Chris Burden’s Hells Gate, jointly owned by LACMA and MOCA) is the wave of the future. The question to ask may be: How likely is it that both institutions will want to show the same object at once? Photographs can’t be shown permanently, and nobody will be showing many Mapplethorpe photos at once, except in an occasional retrospective. This case is a win-win proposition, for reasons that may not apply to other sharings.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Pin It


  1. For much of his work, Chelsea or WeHo are obvious constituencies. But he was far more than just the maker of homo erotic and artsy scene stuff with homegirl Patti smith. Whose horrific warbling about Jen Genet at MoMA recently was bad even for her.

    His nudes are often incredibly sensual and spiritual, his forms and light evoking emotional responses beyond what his hatrs accuse him of. being homoesexual perhaps his nudes like Michelangelo’s are a deeper affinity with the male, and twisted poses that feel right, even when like gnarled tree limbs of smooth flesh.

    Minor White had some great photos also, they made prints, not photos of things. Whites repressed homosexuality may have limited his nude shots, too bad, because he was perhaps the last of the great photographers, before they became just picture of fetishes and things. They used to ake prints, the camera but a vehicle to do so.

    Mapplethorpe made his mark in art, will be nice to see them, but wont be taking the kids when I give tours anymore than those too squeemish should have been in the Smithsonian show. But there are distinctions between the art he made and the photos he shot for his own friends and lifesstyle. Feww seem to be able to make that creative judgment.

  2. As far as Ligon and the Blackbook, much has changed since then. for many, but certainly not all. my son was born a few days after Mapplethorpe died, Black on his mothers side of Jamaican and Alabama middle class black, and me, Western European mutt background. In the LBC, home of War, Snoop and Sublime, we have the most interracial area in the nation with24% listed as “other”. Also has the biggest Jazz/Latin jazz/blues music station in the country, and began Kwanzaa

    Much would be in the Obama mold. But interacial “swirls” of every conceivable combination from samoan/black to Philino/Mexican and Korean/white. The kid just dont care about all that. It is ancient history and not relevant. You got Landry Fields, who grew up a mile away with my son playing travel ball, on the Knicks and Spike Lee wearing his jersey. You would never know he was of African descent to look like him, though my son and Landry’s cousin Cameron at N Arizona do.

    In many part of our country this still matters, but not so much the physical difference thing, but in jobs and class. Less black actors on TV now than before Obama became Prez. The arts and entertainment have become whiter than ever. Far more than the people of our nation live in.

    The Arts have failed us. It is by, for and about the oversensitive and privileged white kids, with a few tokens, especially Asian girls as that is a cultural thing. It is still a voyeuristic society in the artscene, not taking people as human first but as things for status or play, but not as lovers and mates. The Arts are far behind, when true creative art is about being in the time built of the past, ahead of the rest.

    Things have switched, and so, art either dead or failed. Which is it? The gay thing is passe here, the center of lesbians in the universe and large but conservative gay male population in Belmont Heights. Enough of the things that supposedly seperate us, which the artscene clings to. Get to work, find the essence of being human, create that which binds us as a common humanity. THAT is arts role.

    As St Paul and Pres. Obama said
    It is time to put aside childish things.
    Time to grow up, take responsibility and show commitment. We got work to do.

    art collegaiadelenda est

  3. What the hell is Donald Frazell talking about?

  4. Sheesh. Artistes. Look up the Blackbook by Mapplethorpe and responses to it.

    As an interracial family, we see the changes far more than those of single ethnic backgrounds. And things are worse. The left feels betrayed by Obama, though he never promised anything and was always a moderate like Clinton. And feel they have no more obligation to show what they dont care about. The arts are purely academic now, and so completely focused on career. The ghettoiziation of “ethnic” arts complete.

    It is a lily white world in the souless Ivories now. Music is seperated, and jazz ignored, our only pure, intense and relevant art form. The kids dont care physically, they are more conmfortable with who they are in that way, but have far more fears for their future and purpose and spirits. And so Creative art is needed more than ever, that is Our role as artists. Not adolescent self expression or partying. We have failed.

    And so, the Bastilles of Art must be stormed and emptied, to begin again from the foundations of a common humanity. Not a fractured world of self interest. God help us. For god is no longer considered real, the purpose and commitment, responsiblity and sacrifice viewed as unneeded, when the selfishness of the individual now rules. Imperial Clothing.
    A-salaam malaikum.

    art collegia delenda est
    fine art colleges must be destroyed.
    Click name and read, the lies must end.

Add a Comment