The Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, on view concurrently at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is the big news on the West Coast this spring (see our feature story on p.22). The institutions made a joint acquisition in 2011 of more than 1,900 prints by Mapplethorpe and five years later, LACMA curator Britt Salvesen and Getty associate curator Paul Martineau organized this landmark show, on view from mid March until July 31. Selecting the work was no small task. “We went down from 2,000 to 400 key works in one day,” says Martineau. “But then it occurred to us that we shouldn’t be too excited, because we still had to divide that pile into two.”
Furthermore, they needed to tell a compelling story about Mapplethorpe’s work in two separate but complementary exhibitions. After a brainstorming session, they decided to “celebrate the dualities in Mapplethorpe – his Apollonian and Dionysian aspects.” The Getty presentation, he adds, is focused more closely on Mapplethorpe’s disciplined studio practice – his interest in the fine print and in art history and the classical body. Also on view at the Getty is The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs, showing the collection of legendary curator and collector Sam Wagstaff, also Mapplethorpe’s lover and mentor.
A Massachusetts native, Martineau came to the Getty 13 years ago, when he was hired by Weston Naef. After studying art and art history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Martineau worked in the research library of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He had been increasingly drawn to photography in his last two years of college, though, and during an internship at the MFA during his junior year, he catalogued the F. Holland Day collection, and he was hooked.
Although Martineau was leery about the competitive nature of the curatorial field, he applied to graduate school and was accepted at Williams College. “It was a dream come true,” he says. While earning an MA in art history, he worked in the prints, drawings, and photographs department at the Clark Art Institute: “The experience of having access to those photographs and drawings was so special. I fell in love with the intimacy of that.”
Martineau subsequently put together an internship at the Société française de photographie in Paris, where he worked on the organization’s collection of daguerreotypes. Shortly after his return to the States, he was hired by Naef: He was living in Boston, he says, “so I put my stuff in a van and drove cross country in three days.”
Martineau has organized exhibitions at the Getty on Eliot Porter, Herb Ritts, Paul Outerbridge, and Minor White, among others. “I gravitate towards great artists who have been overlooked and are undervalued,” he says, “those who haven’t had a major exhibition in the last 20 years or more. It’s important to me to have an impact, and it’s much easier to do that by working on an artist who hasn’t had a show or a book in a while.”
But Martineau also influences the field through his work with young curators. “One of the things I enjoy is working with our interns,” he says. “I really enjoy teaching them, and I am energized by the idea that I can have a real impact on people who will go on to work in the field.”