Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Exhibition dates: 13th March – 13th September 2015

Curators: The exhibition is curated by Jérôme Neutres from Paris with Director Pirkko Siitari and Chief Curator Marja Sakari from Kiasma.



These images are good to see… but not really what I want to see.

I want to see some of the early work, and some of the S/M photographs. You never get to see these online. It’s almost as though the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation is too scared to authorise the online publication of these works, for fear of – heaven forbid – letting people understand all the facets of Mapplethorpe’s work.

Its the origin story and the picturing of his sexual proclivities that are some of his most powerful work… and we never get to see them. Eros (denied).

Many thankx to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.




Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ken Moody and Robert Sherman' 1984


Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-Portrait' 1980


Robert Mapplethorpe
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Leather Crotch' 1980


Robert Mapplethorpe
Leather Crotch
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation



“The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) lived a life of passion in the New York underground and rock scenes in the 1970s and ‘80s. That passion also made its way into his art.

Consisting of more than 250 works, the retrospective exhibition in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma offers a broad overview of the key periods of Mapplethorpe’s career. In their aspiration for perfection, Mapplethorpe’s pictures blend beauty and eroticism with pain, pleasure and death. Mapplethorpe also photographed his celebrity friends such as Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and Richard Gere. Although solidly anchored in their time, his photographs are also universal and topical even today.

Arriving from Paris to Helsinki, the high-profile exhibition is a unique opportunity to learn about the art and life of one of the most important photographic artists of our time. The exhibition is curated by Jérôme Neutres from Paris with Director Pirkko Siitari and Chief Curator Marja Sakari from Kiasma.

This exhibition is organized by The Finnish National Gallery – Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais, with the collaboration of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York.


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-Portrait' 1975


Robert Mapplethorpe
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Patti Smith' 1979


Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti Smith
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Poppy' 1988


Robert Mapplethorpe
Unique dye transfer
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation



Exhibition themes


“If I had been born one hundred or two hundred years ago, I might have been a sculptor, but photography is a very quick way to see, to make sculpture.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe became interested in photographing sculpture during his first trip to Paris in the early 1970s. He also began taking pictures of people in poses that imitated classical sculptures. Lisa Lyon, the first World Women’s Bodybuilding Champion, was the subject in many of the pictures.


Mapplethorpe prized order and purity of form in his art. He was also particular about the frames of his pictures, which he often designed himself. He had great respect for the long history of art. Some of his nude studies echo Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man which shows an idealised human body inside a circle and a square.


“I am looking for perfection in form. I do that with portraits. I do it with cocks. I do it with flowers.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe’s still lifes and pictures of body parts play with stormy associations. They are distinctly corporeal and vitalistic, whether the subject is an exposed penis or an aubergine on a table. Mapplethorpe said he looked at all objects in precisely the same way. According to Patti Smith, “Robert infused objects, whether for art or life, with his creative impulse, his sacred sexual power. He transformed a ring of keys, a kitchen knife, or a simple wooden frame into art.”


“I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe came from a Roman Catholic family, but his interest in the church was primarily aesthetic. He said he wanted his pictures to be viewed like altars. The figure of a crucified Christ appears in some of his works, as does the human skull, a traditional reminder of death. Instead of suffering, however, the images convey a sense of sinful pleasure. Mapplethorpe worked with colour film starting in the late 1970s, but did not routinely exhibit his colour photos until the end of the 1980s.


“Lisa Lyon reminded me of Michelangelo’s subjects, because he did muscular women.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

Poet and musician Patti Smith was Mapplethorpe’s first and last model and muse. Mapplethorpe photographed covers for Smith’s albums and books of poems. Another important model was the body builder Lisa Lyon, who is the subject of Mapplethorpe’s book Lady: Lisa Lyon. Both women could be described as androgynous. Locating himself in the same intermediate space between femininity and masculinity, Mapplethorpe photographed himself in drag.


New York and the Chelsea Hotel in particular were places where the American cultural intelligentsia used to gather in the 1970s. There Mapplethorpe met writers, musicians and artists such as William Burroughs, Iggy Pop and David Hockney, and enjoyed the attention lavished on him. He became the court photographer of certain cultural circles, his camera capturing friends, celebrities and famous figures in the art world.


“I don’t think anyone understands sexuality. It’s about an unknown, which is why it’s so exciting.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

Sadomasochism, S&M, was both sex and magic for Mapplethorpe. Like the French writer Jean Genet, he too wanted to elevate things into art that were not yet considered art. Mapplethorpe’s depiction of fetishes in his photographs was deliberately formal. He documented spontaneous acts only very infrequently. The sex he captured in his pictures was neither malicious nor repugnant. S&M is about desire and pleasure, and above all about trust.


“I’m trying to record the moment I’m living in and where I’m living, which happens to be in New York. These pictures could not have been done at any other time.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe got his first Polaroid camera in 1970 and fell in love with its simplicity: there were few adjustments to make and you could see the results instantly. Because the film was expensive, Mapplethorpe felt that every picture had to be perfect. Precision and economy became a habit that endured throughout his career. In 1975, he switched over to the more versatile Hasselblad 500.


“We were like two children playing together, like the brother and sister in Cocteau’s ‘Enfants Terribles’.” – Patti Smith

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith began their creative careers together. Frequently they would not plan their projects in advance. The experimental short Still Moving had no script, and Smith improvised her movements and lines. The camera operator was Lisa Rinzler. “He wordlessly guided me. I was an oar in the water and his the steady hand,” Smith has said.


New York was home to America’s cultural intelligentsia in the 1970s. Mapplethorpe was the court photographer of the cultural elite. His portraits feature his friends, celebrities and influential figures on the art scene.


Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki


Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki


Installation views of the exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen



Who’s who?

  • Princesse Diane de Beauvau
    French aristocrat, model and fashion muse
  • Bruno Bischofberger
    Swiss gallerist and art dealer known for bringing American Pop Art to Europe, long-term associate of Andy Warhol
  • Louise Bourgeois
    French-born sculptor known for her gigantic spider sculptures
  • Miep Brons
    Dutch porn dealer
  • William Burroughs
    Writer and primary figure of the Beat Generation
  • Alistair Butler
    New York dancer
  • Patrice Calmettes
    French photographer
  • Truman Capote
    American author and journalist whose best known titles include Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood
  • Leo Castelli
    American-Italian gallerist, influential promoter of contemporary art in New York
  • Katherine Cebrian
    San Francisco socialite
  • Francesco Clemente
    Italian-born contemporary artist
  • Ed and Melody
    Mapplethorpe’s brother Edward and his girlfriend at the time, Melody, a friend of Mapplethorpe’s
  • Richard Gere
    American actor, idolized at the time of this portrait following his performance in American Gigolo
  • Philip Glass and Robert Wilson
    Glass is a contemporary composer, Wilson a director and playwright. At the time of this portrait, they had worked together on their opera Einstein on the Beach
  • Keith Haring
    American Pop and graffiti artist
  • Deborah Harry
    Singer and actress, best known as lead singer of Blondie
  • David Hockney and Henry Geldzahler
    Hockney is a British artist and Pop Art pioneer. Belgian-born Geldzahler was a curator, critic and art historian
  • Grace Jones
    Jamaican-born singer, producer, actress and model
  • Amanda Lear
    French singer, performer, painter and author, friend of celebrities such as David Bowie, Salvador Dalí and Brian Jones
  • Annie Leibovitz
    American photographer whose work featured on the cover Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair
  • Roy Lichtenstein
    American painter, sculptor and leading Pop artist
  • Lisa and Robert
    Mapplethorpe and his long-term muse, bodybuilder Lisa Lyon
  • John McKendry
    Curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and personal friend who first introduced Mapplethorpe to the MET’s fine art photography collection
  • Louise Nevelson
    American sculptor
  • Yoko Ono
    Japanese-born artist and musician
  • Philippe
    French socialite
  • Iggy Pop
    Singer, songwriter and actor known for his energetic stage presence as lead singer of The Stooges
  • Robert Rauschenberg
    American artist who inspired later generations of artists including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, regarded as a major figure in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art
  • Isabella Rossellini
    Italian-born actress, model, filmmaker, author, and philanthropist
  • Giorgio di Sant’Angelo
    Italian-born fashion designer
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
    Budding actor and award-winning bodybuilder at the time of this portrait, he later achieved world renown as a Hollywood star and Governor of California
  • Cindy Sherman
    American contemporary artist, known for photographs analyzing women’s roles and place in society
  • Holly Solomon
    A self-anointed ‘Pop princess’, Solomon was a prominent collector and subsequent dealer of contemporary art. She was famously immortalized by other artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein
  • Susan Sontag
    American writer and essayist
  • Tom of Finland
    Finnish artist and illustrator. His drawings had a major influence on gay culture from the 1970s onwards. Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol were among his admirers
  • Sam Wagstaff
    Curator, collector, Mapplethorpe’s lifetime companion and artistic mentor
  • Andy Warhol
    Pop Art pioneer and filmmaker, greatly admired by Mapplethorpe
  • Edmund White
    American author, known for his work on gay themes


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ajitto' 1981


Robert Mapplethorpe
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Lisa Lyon' 1982


Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation


Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-Portrait' 1988


Robert Mapplethorpe
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation



Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Mannerheiminaukio 2, FIN-00100
Helsinki, Finland
Tel:+358 (0)294 500 501

Opening hours:
Tue 10-17
Wed-Fri 10-20.30
Sat 10-18
Sun 10-17
Mon closed

Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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