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From 1973 to 1984, Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr. (American, 1921-1987) assembled one of the most important private collections of photographs in the world. Wagstaff promoted photography as an art form by organizing exhibitions, delivering lectures, and publishing material on his collection. In 1984, a few years before his death from AIDS-related complications, Wagstaff sold his collection to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Numbering several thousand, the collection now forms a cornerstone of the Getty Museum's holdings of photographs.
Wagstaff served as a curator of paintings and sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum (1961-1968) and curator of contemporary art at the Detroit Institute of Art (1969-1971). In addition to being a collector and curator, he was the mentor and lover of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In 1973, Wagstaff began to sell his collection of contemporary paintings in order to raise funds to purchase photographs. He was not only at the forefront of establishing a market for this neglected art form; his reputation as an arbiter of artistic taste also provided an impetus for the collection and study of photography by museums and scholars.
Wagstaff's taste was wide-ranging and unorthodox. His interest spanned from the experimental beginnings of photographic history in the mid-nineteenth century to contemporary works by up-and-coming artists. He collected photographs by recognized British, French, and American masters as well as anonymous pictures by unknown makers. Sometimes Wagstaff paired nineteenth-century and modern works to create unusual and amusing juxtapositions.
The organization of the exhibition will be roughly chronological, highlighting both masterpieces and lesser known works from Wagstaff's collection. Well-known photographers such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Gustave le Gray, Julia Margaret Cameron, Edgar Degas, Walker Evans, Dr. Harold Edgerton, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and William Klein will be featured, among many others. The prints, drawn exclusively from the Getty's permanent collection, are of very high quality and will interest a wide spectrum of visitors.
Drawing upon research conducted in the Samuel J. Wagstaff Archive at the Getty Research Institute, the goal of this exhibition is to showcase a wide range of photographs (including daguerrotypes, cartes-de-visite, stereographs, and paper prints) and use them as a foil for exploring Wagstaff's enduring vision and influence.
This exhibition has been organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Generously supported by Paul and Giselaine Coulombe.
Gustave Le Gray (France, 1820-1884), The Beech Tree (detail), Circa 1855-57, Albumen silver print, 12 7/16 x 16 1/4 inches, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.637.22