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Thursday, December 14, 2017

L.A. the right home for Robert Mapplethorpe collection

"Tulip, 1977" shows the photographer's signature style. "Tulip, 1977" shows the photographer's signature style. Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

News of a museum's major art acquisition isn't usually accompanied by the question, "Why?" So it's interesting to see it crop up in reports that a huge cache of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs, plus his archives and youthful mixed-media art, has been jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

The specific gist of the puzzlement seems to be: Why Los Angeles?

Mapplethorpe was born in Floral Park, Queens, and spent his entire working life in New York (he died there at 42 in 1989). Although the only time I met him was at a dinner party in Pasadena, he didn't have much connection with Southern California.

Yet, since when is an artist's studio zip-code a ruling criterion for art museums with encyclopedic collections such as LACMA and the Getty? The puzzlement recalls an infamous column written by a New York critic 20 years ago when the Getty bought James Ensor's magnificent "Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889," claiming the signal Expressionist masterpiece really "belonged in Europe." Apparently the critic hadn't spent much time at his local Metropolitan and Museum of Modern Art.

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