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Robert Mapplethorpe is an ideal Getty-LACMA fit

February 8, 2011 |  4:35 pm

Edward Weston Excusado 1925 MFAB See that photograph over there? It's by Edward Weston (1886-1958), the great California photographer, who some regard as the first major artist to emerge in Los Angeles. And, yes, it's a picture of a porcelain toilet, "Excusado," taken during one of his sojourns in Mexico in the 1920s.

The photograph can be linked to "Fountain" (1917), Marcel Duchamp's infamous found-sculpture of a urinal, famously recorded for posterity in a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. The subject is quintessentially modern and New World too, indoor plumbing having become a virtual symbol of national progress from dusty old Europe, which made it a fitting subject for the mechanical apparatus called a camera. And in its emphasis on a sinuous, gaping, undulating form, it puts a public face on a distinctly private matter. No wonder critics and art historians have related the work to Weston's famous, abstracted photographs of female nudes.

What has all this got to do with Robert Mapplethorpe (1944-1989), whose archive, early mixed-media works, photographic negatives and some 2,000 silver gelatin and other prints have just been jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Trust? Actually, a lot.

Click here for some thoughts on why this acquisition is perfect for these two museums.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Edward Weston, "Excusado," 1925, silver gelatin print; Credit: Museum of Fine Arts Boston