After 10 years of availability, and a more rigorous three-year hunt, the New York-based Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation placed its cache of the artist’s material with two Los Angeles museums. As of Monday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty Museum are proud co-owners of over $30 million worth of Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre: editioned prints, Polaroids, contact sheets, negatives and films, as well as the photographer’s lesser-known drawings, collages and assemblages.
In addition to the artist’s legendary stark photographs of nudes, friends and flowers, the collection also includes work by many of Mapplethorpe’s contemporaries and scores of archival material—business records, documentation of exhibitions, press clippings and correspondence with friends like Patti Smith. The majority of the acquisition was gifted by the Mapplethorpe Foundation; the rest was purchased with funds from the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust.
The artist was born in Queens and is closely tied to the New York art world of the ‘70s and ‘80s, so Los Angeles is a surprising choice. One reason for the acquisition is its highly collaborative nature. LACMA is known for its collection of 20th Century photography, and the Getty is able to provide sophisticated conservation and storage facilities (most of the fragile archival materials will be housed at the Getty Research Institute).
Another reason for the match stretches to Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe’s mentor and partner, who died in 1987, two years before Mapplethorpe. In 1984, the Getty acquired Wagstaff’s archive. Mapplethorpe’s collection will join Wagstaff’s, and that of Harry Lunn, the photography dealer who published Mapplethorpe’s X, Y and Z portfolios with Robert Miller and Robert Self in 1978.
Together, LACMA and the Getty will publish catalogues and organize concurrent exhibitions that incorporate Mapplethorpe’s artwork with related archival material, though probably not for at least three years. Once the collection arrives in L.A. this summer, curators at both museums hope to make some work available for private study, although it will not go on public view.
The museums have not yet decided upon the split for long-term licensing and reproduction of this work.