Wagstaff, Before and After Mapplethorpe

Wagstaff, Before and After Mapplethorpe

A Biography

Book - 2014
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Sam Wagstaff, the legendary curator, collector, and patron of the arts, emerges as a cultural visionary in this groundbreaking biography. Even today remembered primarily as the mentor and lover of Robert Mapplethorpe, the once infamous photographer, Wagstaff, in fact, had an incalculable--and largely overlooked--influence on the world of contemporary art and photography, and on the evolution of gay identity in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Born in New York City in 1921 into a notable family, Wagstaff followed an arc that was typical of a young man of his class. He attended both Hotchkiss and Yale, served in the navy, and would follow in step with his Ivy League classmates to the "gentleman's profession," as an ad executive on Madison Avenue. With his unmistakably good looks, he projected an aura of glamour and was cited by newspapers as one of the most eligible bachelors of the late 1940s. Such accounts proved deceiving, for Wagstaff was forced to live in the closet, his homosexuality only revealed to a small circle of friends. Increasingly uncomfortable with his career and this double life, he abandoned advertising, turned to the formal study of art history, and embarked on a radical personal transformation that was in perfect harmony with the tumultuous social, cultural, and sexual upheavals of the 1960s.

Accordingly, Wagstaff became a curator, in 1961, at Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum, where he mounted both "Black, White, and Gray"--the first museum show of minimal art--and the sculptor Tony Smith's first museum show, while lending his early support to artists Andy Warhol, Ray Johnson, and Richard Tuttle, among many others. Later, as a curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, he brought the avant-garde to a regional museum, offending its more staid trustees in the process.

After returning to New York City in 1972, the fifty-year-old Wagstaff met the twenty-five-year-old Queens-born Robert Mapplethorpe, then living with Patti Smith. What at first appeared to be a sexual dalliance became their now historic lifelong romance, in which Mapplethorpe would foster Wagstaff's own burgeoning interest in contemporary photography and Wagstaff would help secure Mapplethorpe's reputation in the art world. In spite of their profound class differences, the artistic union between the philanthropically inclined Wagstaff and the prodigiously talented Mapplethorpe would rival that of Stieglitz and O'Keefe, or Rivera and Kahlo, in their ability to help reshape contemporary art history.

Positioning Wagstaff's personal life against the rise of photography as a major art form and the simultaneous formation of the gay rights movement, Philip Gefter's absorbing biography provides a searing portrait of New York just before and during the age of AIDS. The result is a definitive and memorable portrait of a man and an era.

Publisher: New York :, Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company,, 2014, ©2014.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780871404374
Branch Call Number: 709. 2 WAG G
Characteristics: xvii, 458 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm

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manuelaleal Apr 20, 2015

Thoroughly researched book on Sam Wagstaff, focusing especially on his role in the development pf photography as a serious "art" medium. I was expecting the book to focus a bit more on the gay culture of the period, and its ramifications onto the artworld.

BUT that was just a wish of mine. It does touch on that of course especially since Mapplethorpe travailed at the edges, but the book focuses on a lot on photography and the history of photography and how influential Sam Wagstaff was in creating a market for photography aand which specific prints of sam purchased and collected which isn't really why I am interested in Sam Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe.
As someone who knows the history of photography well, even I was annoyed at the amount of detail. The author clearly has an agenda which to promote Sam's scholarly value in that field. Which is fair. I just wish it would give as much focus to other social-cultural aspects of that period.

A great book, highly recommended.

p
Perspots
Dec 18, 2014

From the book jacket: "Biography on a grand cultural level, here is the long-awaited story of Sam Wagstaff and his indelible influence on the world of late-twentieth-century art."
A great read.

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