Winner of the Arts Club of Washington Marfield Prize
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Selection
This "admiring and absorbing biography" (Deborah Solomon, The New York Times Book Review) charts Sam Wagstaff's incalculable influence on contemporary art, photography, and gay identity.
A legendary curator, collector, and patron of the arts, Sam Wagstaff was a "figure who stood at the intersection of gay life and the art world and brought glamour and daring to both" (Andrew Solomon). Now, in Philip Gefter's groundbreaking biography, he emerges as a cultural visionary. Gefter documents the influence of the man who—although known today primarily as the mentor and lover of Robert Mapplethorpe—"almost invented the idea of photography as art" (Edmund White). Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe braids together Wagstaff's personal transformation from closeted society bachelor to a rebellious curator with a broader portrait of the tumultuous social, cultural, and sexual upheavals of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, creating a definitive portrait of a man and his era.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe were a true power couple! This book examines a partnership that influenced the art world from the 1970s onward…both Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in the late 1980s, ending one of the most powerful artists’ unions in the late 20th century.”
Until fairly recently, Sam Wagstaff was best remembered as the patron and lover of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Gefter's (Photography After Frank) rich biography shows this collector and curator not only as a trendsetter in the art world, but a "tastemaker of historic consequences" who shaped art history during the second half of the 20th century. Handsome, wealthy, and Yale educated, Wagstaff abandoned his career in advertising to study art history under Renaissance scholar Richard Offner at NYU. In 1964, he curated the first exhibition of minimalist art, called Black, White, and Gray, at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Conn.; however he was "never officially recognized as the first art-world professional to identify the movement." His greatest contribution, according to the author, was as an independent advocate for and connoisseur of photography, as evident by Wagstaff's legendary photo collection, now on display at Los Angeles's J. Paul Getty Museum. Gefter, a former staffer at the New York Times, writes gracefully and with a sure command of his subject. Wagstaff witnessed dramatic cultural shifts in the art world and in the gay community, all of which are vividly tracked and smartly explained. Also commendable is the way Gefter traces the arc of the Wagstaff-Mapplethorpe relationship without letting Mapplethorpe steal the show as the photographer is wont to do. Photos.