Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff + Robert Mapplethorpe
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Wagstaff's life and influence in the art world unfold as told through his own words-- a speech he gave at the Corcoran Museum is included on the DVD-- as well as commentary by Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Dominick Dunne, Eugenia Parry, John Richardson, Ralph Gibson, John Giorno et al. The picture we take away from this documentary of Wagstaff is that of a man born into money, extremely handsome with a good sense of humor, who insisted on being who he was and living life on his own terms, whether it was buying and collecting photographs or spending his evenings in places like the Anvil Bar in New York. Commentator after commentator uses the word "compartmentalize" to describe the many facets of Wagstaff's life. He said that rather than spend much time reading about photography, he rather chose to look at the pictures and that photography should be, in his words, pleasant.
A little of the writer John Dunne goes a long way with me. I remember not being much taken with his article about the death of Mapplethorpe published in "Vanity Fair.Read more ›
Though the title of the film seems to have come from an art exhibit, it may allude to the relations between Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe, and a 1970s musician named Smith. A few of the interviewees said Robert used Sam to garner fame. However, it is never stated directly that the two lovers must not have been monogamous with each other. For those who are interested in the dynamics between gay lovers, especially cross-generational ones, this may be particularly interesting. A student could write a paper comparing this couple to Rimbaud and Verlaine, Wilde and Douglas, and several others.
The work would be accessible to almost all viewers. Still, since it speaks about art scenes and New York high society and Capote's ball and Christy's auctions, it may feel very elitist and snobby to some. The work emphasizes that Wagstaff was an important arbiter of good taste, but something about his collections did seem obsessive-compulsive. This is not Liberace where some can laugh at the gaudiness and decadence. Wagstaff's scene and entourage seemed quite exclusive and highbrow.
In 1993, Newsweek had a cover story about artists and AIDS. This work reminds me of that in that it lists the names and dates of deaths of many artists who have succumbed to the virus. Though I was not familiar with several of them, it still broke my heart. The overall tone of the documentary is not somber, but some may shed a few tears at this poignant moment in the work.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
two of the most fascinating people in art. highly recommended documentary. A+++++++++++Published 21 months ago by Dita von Krieg
This film made me remember a lot of important names in the art world that I've forgottn about since I went to art school. Read morePublished on December 30, 2009 by Erik Peterson