Wagstaff, Samuel J.

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Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr. (Nov. 4, 1921-Jan. 14, 1987) was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts from September, 1968 through October, 1971. Prior to serving in this position he had been Senior Curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut from February 20, 1967 through June, 1968, and Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings there from October 1, 1961 through February 20, 1967. He was part-time instructor at George Washington University (18th C. art), and received the David Finley Fellowship from the National Gallery (c. 1959-61). Prior to this he had studied at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University for an M.A. in Art History, and served a three month internship in the paintings department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he helped prepare a catalog of paintings and sculpture for a Gauguin exhibition. His earlier academic background and professional experience consist of a B.A. in English Literature, from Yale University; service during World War II (1943-45) as a Lt. JG, Executive Officer, LST Bureau of Navel Personnel, Washington, D.C., and Assistant Account Executive, Benton and Bowles, New York City; Palm Beach Company; and Account Executive at John Robert Powers Cosmetic Company (1945-55). Mr. Wagstaff was a well-known collector in various areas, and an authority on Gauguin ceramics, prints, and sculpture; the history of photography (particularly lesser known individuals); and 18th c. American silver and silver-plate. He was responsible for the first museum showing of Pop Art in the U.S. (American Paintings and Sculpture from Connecticut Collections, Wadsworth Atheneum, July 24-Sept. 9, 1962). He was the first museum curator to give prominent minimalist constructivist sculptor Tony Smith a retrospective museum show at the Wadsworth Atheneum (Nov. 8-Dec. 31, 1966). At The Detroit Institute of Arts, he was responsible for many important, and one literally ground-breaking, exhibitions of artists on the cutting edge of modern American art. He was a tireless advocate of minimalist, conceptual, and performance art (cf. Exhibition Series). Mr. Wagstaff resigned in October, 1971, to pursue personal collecting and research goals after an inheritance made him economically independent. Thereafter, he returned to New York City, and in late 1971 with the help of his friend and future executor of his estate, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1947-1989), amassed one of the largest private photographic collections in the United States, which was sold to the J. Paul Getty Foundation in 1984 for a reputed $4.5 million. In the last years of his life Mr. Wagstaff devoted much of his time to collecting mid-19th to early 20th c. American silver and silver-plate.

From the description of The Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr. records, 1956-1978 (predominantly 1968-1971). 1956-1978 (predominantly 1968-1971) (Detroit Institute of Arts Research Library & Archives). WorldCat record id: 422767042

American curator and collector Samuel Wagstaff Jr. was born 1921, in New York City. Following a career as a curator of contemporary art at the Wadsworth Atheneum and Detroit Institute of Arts, Wagstaff returned to New York City and concentrated on collecting. The focus of Wagstaff's photography collection was originally nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French, British and American photography, and later shifted toward more daring and contemporary work. Wagstaff also collected postcards, prints, cat images, and 19th-century American silver.

From the description of Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 1952-1986. (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 84545661

Samuel Wagstaff (1921-1987) was an art dealer and curator from New York, N.Y.

Formerly a curator of 20th century art at the Wadsworth Atheneum (1961-1968) and at the Detroit Institute of Arts (1968-1971), in 1973 Wagstaff began collecting photographs. He subsequently moved to New York and amassed one of the largest privately held collections, focusing primarily on American, British and French works from the 19th century.

From the description of Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1932-1985. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 245521077

Art dealer, curator; New York, N.Y.

Formerly a curator of 20th century art at the Wadsworth Atheneum (1961-1968) and at the Detroit Institute of Arts (1968-1971), in 1973 Wagstaff began collecting photographs. He subsequently moved to New York and amassed one of the largest privately held collections, focusing primarily on American, British and French works from the 19th century.

From the description of Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1962-1984. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 220147878

Biographical / Historical Note

Curator and visionary photography collector Samuel Wagstaff Jr. was born 1921, in New York City. The son of a lawyer from an old New York family and fashion designer Olga Piorkowska, Wagstaff graduated from Yale University and served in the Navy during World War II. After the war and a short career in advertising he studied Renaissance art at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts under the mentorship of Richard Offner. In 1959 he received a David E. Finley art history fellowship at the National Gallery of Art. He assumed a curatorial position in contemporary art at the Wadsworth Atheneum from 1961 to 1968 and then at the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1968 to 1971. At both institutions Wagstaff pursued his interest in the avant garde and helped promote the careers of artists such as Michael Heizer, Tony Smith, Gordon Newton and Richard Tuttle.

In addition to his curatorial work, Wagstaff was a noted collector. He originally concentrated on avant-garde paintings. Following his return to New York in the 1970s, he turned his attention to photography, with an initial focus on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French, British and American photography. Influenced by his long-term partner, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Wagstaff's collecting later shifted toward more daring and contemporary photography. At a time when scholarship on the subject was limited, Wagstaff promoted the significance of photography in lectures, on panels, and famously on the Dick Cavett television show. Wagstaff loaned works from his photography collection for national and international exhibitions, often served as a freelance curator, and regularly responded to requests for curatorial advice. In 1977 his own press published A Book of Photographs from the Collection of Sam Wagstaff .

When Wagstaff's photography holdings numbered more than 2,500 masterworks, he sold the collection to the J. Paul Getty Museum and focused on building a collection of 19th-century American silver. The New York Historical Society exhibited more than 100 examples from his silver collection in 1987, the last show curated by Wagstaff. His silver collection was sold at auction following his death. Wagstaff died in 1987.

From the guide to the Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987 (bulk 1952-1986), (The Getty Research Institute Special Collections 1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100 Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688 (310) 440-7390)

Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr. (1921-1987), the son of a lawyer from an old New York family and fashion artist Olga Piorkowska, was born in New York City. A graduate of Yale University, he was an ensign in the Navy and took part in the D-day landing at Omaha Beach.

Following World War II, Wagstaff studied Renaissance art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. A David E. Finley art history fellowship took him to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. in 1959. He served as curator of contemporary art at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Conn., from 1961 to 1968, where he coordinated sculptor Tony Smith's first museum show in 1966. In 1971, during Wagstaff's tenure as curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts (1968-1971), he presented Michael Heizer's installation Dragged Mass Geometric on the grounds of the museum.

In addition to his curatorial work, Samuel J. Wagstaff was a noted collector. Originally, he was a fairly influential collector of avant-garde paintings. After seeing the exhibition "The Painterly Photograph" and meeting photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Wagstaff became convinced that photographs were the most unrecognized and, possibly, the most valuable works of art. He moved to New York and began selling his collection of paintings, using the proceeds to begin his photography collection and concentrating on 19th century American, British, and French examples. Then, influenced by his lover, photographer 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. An exhibition of his photographs was organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., in 1978, and A Book of Photographs from the Sam Wagstaff Collection was published to accompany the show that toured the country.

The photograph collection was sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, Calif., in 1984, for a reported $5 million. Wagstaff then focused his attention on collecting 19th century American silver, and a selection from that collection was exhibited at the New York Historical Society in 1987.

Samuel J. Wagstaff died in New York City on January 14, 1987, from pneumonia, a complication of HIV infection.

From the guide to the Samuel J. Wagstaff papers, circa 1932-1985, (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Samuel J. Wagstaff papers, circa 1932-1985 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
creatorOf Wagstaff, Samuel J. Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1932-1985. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Wagstaff, Samuel J. Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987, 1952-1986. Getty Research Institute
creatorOf Wagstaff, Samuel J. Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1962-1984. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Wagstaff, Samuel J. The Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr. records, 1956-1978 (predominantly 1968-1971). Detroit Institute of Arts Research Library & Archives, DIA Research Library & Archives
creatorOf Samuel Wagstaff papers, 1796-1987 (bulk 1952-1986) Getty Research Institute
creatorOf Wagstaff, Samuel J. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Basen, Dan person
associatedWith Basen, Dan. person
associatedWith Basen, Dan, 1939- person
associatedWith Brecht, George person
associatedWith Brecht, George. person
associatedWith Byars, James Lee. person
associatedWith Cummings, Frederick J. person
associatedWith De Maria, Walter, 1935- person
associatedWith Detroit Institute of Arts. corporateBody
associatedWith Di Suvero, Mark, 1933- person
associatedWith Fine, Albert M. person
associatedWith Flavin, Dan, 1933- person
associatedWith Gauguin, Paul, 1848-1903. person
associatedWith Gray, Christopher, 1915-1970. person
associatedWith Halprin, Anna person
associatedWith Halprin, Anna. person
associatedWith Hartigan, Grace. person
associatedWith Heizer, Michael, 1944- person
associatedWith Homer, Winslow, 1836-1910. person
associatedWith James, Charles, d. 1978. person
associatedWith Johnson, Philip, 1906- person
associatedWith Johnson, Ray, 1927- person
associatedWith Kelly, Ellsworth, 1923- person
associatedWith Manning, Doreen person
associatedWith Manning, Doreen. person
associatedWith Manning, Robert person
associatedWith Manning, Robert. person
associatedWith Mapplethorpe, Robert person
associatedWith Mapplethorpe, Robert. person
associatedWith Martin, Agnes, 1912-2004. person
associatedWith Morris, Robert, 1931- person
associatedWith Newton, Gordon person
associatedWith Newton, Gordon, 1948- person
associatedWith Oldenburg, Claes, 1929- person
associatedWith Reinhardt, Ad, 1913-1967. person
associatedWith Roth, Dieter, 1930-1998. person
associatedWith Saret, Alan, 1944- person
associatedWith Smith, Patti. person
associatedWith Smith, Tony, 1912-1980. person
associatedWith Tuttle, Richard, 1941- person
associatedWith Wadsworth Atheneum. corporateBody
associatedWith Warhol, Andy, 1928- person
associatedWith Wegman, William. person
associatedWith Westermann, H.C. (Horace Clifford), 1922- person
associatedWith Wilson, Mary F. person
associatedWith Wilson, Mary F. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
United States
New York (State)--New York
New York (State)--New York
Michigan--Detroit
United States
Subject
Art, Modern
Art, Modern--20th century--Collectors and collecting--United States
Photography--Exhibitions
Photography--Collectors and collecting
Silver--United States--Collectors and collecting
Artists
Silver--Private collections
Fluxus (Group of artists)
Art dealers
Museum curators
Art--Private collections--United States
Art--Collectors and collecting--New York (State)--New York
Photographs--Collectors and collecting
Art--Private collections
Curators--New York (State)--New York
Art, Modern--20th century--Collectors and collecting
Art dealers--New York (State)--New York
Art--Collectors and collecting
Artists--Correspondence
Curators
Photography
Artists--United States
Photographs--Collectors and collecting--United States
Occupation
Function

Person

Active 1796

Active 1987

French,

English

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