LGBT photography collection grows at the Guggenheim

A large archive of George Platt Lynes photographs, including portraits, fashion shots and homo-erotic studies, joins the Mapplethorpe bequest


The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has been building a photography collection since 1992, when the Robert Mapplethorpe Estate gave the museum $2 million and 200 of the artist’s photographs. Recently, the Guggenheim announced that it has acquired an important archive of 531 George Platt Lynes photographs. The acquisition is the single largest body of photographic work to enter the museum’s collections.

The archive derives from the Monroe Wheeler Collection (Wheeler was Lynes’s long-standing friend, mentor and patron) and is valued at $1.75 million. The photographs were purchased from Anatole Pohorilenko, of Philadelphia, who was Wheeler’s partner for the last nineteen years of his life, and is executor of his estate. Jane Corkin, the Toronto-based dealer, orchestrated the deal over two years. The archive was purchased by one of Corkin’s clients and came to the museum as a donation via the Thunderbird business school, in Glendale, Arizona.

Lynes is known for his homo-erotic studies, but during the 1930s and 40s, his fame was based on portraits and fashion photographs, published in Harpers Bazaar and Vogue. Lincoln Kirstein, founder of the New York City Ballet, said, “He fixed the face of nearly every important artist, writer, and musician of his time recording their faces as expressions of their inner talent, not as masks reflecting the corroboration of public icons.” W.H. Auden, Jean Cocteau, Colette, T.S. Eliot, Marsden Hartley, Lotte Lenya, Thomas Mann, William Somerset Maugham, Gertrude Stein, and Igor Stravinsky, all sat for him. Kirstein noted, “One tool he used supremely well was flattery. He wanted you to look your best.” Lynes influenced later generations of photographers working in fashion, editorial, and fine art photography.

The Guggenheim’s holdings now rival those of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana, which has an archive of 600 prints. MoMA and Yale also have notable collections. In the 80s, the Robert Miller Gallery sold another large group to an anonymous collector with homes in New York and Europe; it is the largest private collection of Lynes’s work. Few museums today actively acquire work by artists such as Lynes or Mapplethorpe. Mr Drutt acknowledges that “this institution supports controversial curatorial choices.”

The enabling dealer, Jane Corkin, said, “MoMA or the Whitney Museum of American Art might have been more obvious choices than the Guggenheim, but I had to look at the institutions in a different way. I wanted to make sure the work didn’t end up in a basement. My role was to find someone to take in the collection, with the time and ability to do serious academic research.”

Ms Corkin has a long-standing interest in Lynes’s photographs. In April 1996, she purchased a group of fifty-five prints by the artist at Sotheby’s New York for $86,100 and she acquired several more at the Paris Photo Fair held last November. The value of her collection can only be enhanced by the imprimatur of the Guggenheim. But she points out, “I’ve been in a privileged position to watch this field grow, and to see a market being made over the past 20-25 years. This is a way of giving back to my clients and to the community.”

The Guggenheim is showing a selection of the photographs at an exhibition of recent acquisitions (until 16 May), which also reveals how active the Guggenheim has become in the field. Though many are unaware of the Guggenheim’s purchases, the museum has quietly added work by artists like Vito Acconci, Lewis Baltz, Uta Barth, James Casebere, Tseng Kwong Chi, Miles Coolidge, Thomas Demand, Anna Gaskell, Andreas Gursky, Tim Hailand, Jim Hodges, Roni Horn, Bill Jacobson, Steven Pippin, Aura Rosenberg, and Cindy Sherman.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Collecting gayly'