Daniel Wolf, a celebrated photography collector and dealer who was married to the architect and sculptor Maya Lin, died on January 25 at his home in Colorado. The news was confirmed by Wolf’s friend, the collector Larry Warsh, and Jim Ganz, the Getty’s senior curator of photographs. The cause of his death and his age were not specified by Warsh and Ganz.
Wolf amassed a collection that included works by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and other marquee names. Warsh described Wolf as a “visionary” in the field.
“He was an amazing collector with instinct who took risks,” Warsh said in a phone interview. “He was able to use his insight and his instinct in terms of what in this case led to the creation of the whole category of photography, and how he amassed collections and gave it historical importance and context that it didn’t really have.”
After he graduated from Bennington College in Vermont, Wolf started off his career in New York by selling photographs outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He opened up his own gallery in the city in the 1970s and later cofounded the photography fair AIPAD. In recent years, Wolf housed pieces from his collection in a former jail in Yonkers, New York, that he and Lin purchased for $1 million in 2013.
Wolf also collected antiques and objects, including pre-Columbian furniture, Chinese bronzes, American prehistoric pottery, and more. In an interview with the New York Times in 1998, Wolf and Lin discussed the ways in which their aesthetics, put on display in their New York home, were sometimes playfully at odds with one another.
“I’m excessively this, and she’s excessively that,” he told the Times. “We love each other’s that, but we’re each inherently this.”
Among his accomplishments, Wolf played a crucial role in the development of the Getty Museum’s photography collection. A 1994 Los Angeles Times article describes how during the 1980s he “circled the globe for the Getty, methodically acquiring the most important photographs money could buy.” Wolf acquired complete or partial collections amassed by Samuel Wagstaff, Arnold Crane, Andre and Marie-Therese Jammes, and other international figures for the museum.
According to Ganz, senior curator of photographs at the Getty, when John Walsh took the helm of Los Angeles museum in 1983, Wolf initiated a conversation with the new director about building a photography collection for the institution. By that time, Wolf had established a strong international network of collectors and served as a kind of “secret agent” for the Getty in purchasing major works for it.
“He wasn’t just a middle man,” Ganz told ARTnews. “He was a really brilliant impresario and entrepreneur who had a great eye for quality and knew the history of photography. He was a brilliant negotiator as well.”
Ganz, who met Wolf once in recent years, said that he was “very passionate and interested in so many different things.”
Wolf worked closely with Weston J. Naef, who would become the founding curator of the Getty’s photography department, on the acquisitions, and Naef told the Los Angeles Times at the time that the endeavor “offered the promise of building one of the greatest collections of photographs that may ever be created.”
Pieces acquired by Wolf for the Getty included major 19th-century works by early figures in the history of the medium, as well as ones by early to mid-20th century artists like Alexander Rodchenko and Man Ray.
Ganz said that the development of the photography collection “was seen as a very clever move and strengthened market for photography in a way,” adding that “the Getty had shown world that this was a very important medium for us to add to this collection.”
One photograph by Mariana Cook in the Getty’s collection features Wolf and Lin together in New York in 1998.