Mapplethorpe Foundation: ‘We almost secretly reserved’ images for museums such as LACMA and Getty

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Who knew there was this much work left in the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation? Monday’s announcement that LACMA and the Getty Museum together acquired over 2,000 photographs by the artist, with a robust archive going to the Getty Research Institute, came as a surprise to art experts for many reasons.

It was the first joint acquisition by LACMA and the Getty, arranged at a time when the latter is searching for a new president and museum director. And while both museums have strong photography programs, neither had particularly deep holdings in Mapplethorpe.


Before this deal, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had seven photographs, says department head Britt Salvesen. The Getty Museum had ‘a few Polaroids and a platinum print,’ says acting director David Bomford. The Guggenheim had previously ranked as the recipient of the biggest donation from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

But perhaps most striking of all was the fact that the foundation, which since the artist’s death in 1989 has actively sold his prized black-and-white images through top galleries at top prices (benefitting AIDS research and museum photography departments), had this much material left to give. This was not a collection of leftovers but ‘a print of virtually every editioned photograph’ done in his lush black-and-white silver gelatin process, including an entire XYZ Portfolio with his most controversial S&M imagery. (Think self-portrait with bullwhip planted in anus.)

Michael Stout, president of the Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York and the artist’s friend and lawyer, explained, ‘Many of the works going to Getty and LACMA are things we almost secretly reserved for this day.’

‘Our goal was for the museums to have everything they wanted to tell the full story of Robert Mapplethorpe’s life and creative life,’ he said. The foundation will continue to sell images from editions not already sold out, he says, but has relinquished its archival ‘responsibility and burden.’

Salvesen at LACMA added that Mapplethorpe’s silver gelatin prints were not in any event printed by the artist himself: they were done either under his supervision or posthumously, per his permission, by the foundation. ‘We’re not getting brand new prints of anything made just for us,’ she adds.

Click here for the full story on the Mapplethorpe art and archive acquisition.


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