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Samuel Jones Wagstaff, Jr.
(November 4, 1921 - January 14, 1987) USA

Sam Wagstaff

Curator, collector


Sam Wagstaff was born in New York City. He was the son of Samuel Jones Wagstaff, Sr., a wealthy lawyer, and his second wife, Polish émigré Olga May Piorkowska, a fashion illustrator. His parents divorced in 1932. After growing up on Central Park South, attending the Hotchkiss School and graduating from Yale University, and being a fixture on the debutante circuit, Wagstaff joined the US Navy in 1941 as an ensign, where he took part in the D-day landing at Omaha Beach in World War II. He returned to school to study Renaissance art at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts, however, and turned his energies to the art world.

In 1959, a David E. Finley art history fellowship took him to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He served as curator of contemporary art at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut from 1961 to 1968. In 1968, when he was not chosen for the position of museum director, Wagstaff left Hartford for the Detroit Institute of Arts staying to 1971. In addition to his curatorial work, Wagstaff was a noted collector.

Sam Robert After a conflict with the Detroit Institute of Arts' board of trustees over an earthwork by Michael Heizer, which had destroyed the immaculate museum lawn, he moved back to New York. After seeing the exhibition "The Painterly Photograph, 1890-1914" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1973 and meeting Robert Mapplethorpe in 1972, Wagstaff became convinced that photographs were the most unrecognized and, possibly, the most valuable works of art.

He began selling his collection of paintings, using the proceeds to buy 19th-century American, British, and French photography. Then, influenced by Mapplethorpe, Wagstaff's taste veered toward the daring, and he began to depart from established names in search of new talent. His collection was soon recognized as one of the finest private holdings in the United States. In 1984 Wagstaff's photography collection went to the J. Paul Getty Museum, for a reported price said to be in the neighborhood of $5 million. Between 1976 and 1986, Sam Wagstaff donated his personal papers to the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Sam Wagstaff met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in 1972 at a party, beginning a fifteen-year relationship that would last until Wagstaff's death, described as "first a kind of marriage, sexual and artistic, then a friendship". Mapplethorpe, whom Wagstaff called his shy pornographer, was also his guide to the gay demimonde of extreme sex and drugs that flourished in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1980s, Wagstaff gave Mapplethorpe $500,000 to purchase the top-floor loft at 24 Bond Street, where the photographer lived and had his shooting space.

Wagstaff died of pneumonia arising from AIDS at his home in Manhattan, two years before Mapplethorpe.


Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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