Posts Tagged ‘Apollonian

15
Dec
16

Exhibition: ‘Teller on Mapplethorpe’ at Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 18th November 2016 – 7th January 2017

 

PLEASE NOTE: SINCE THIS POSTING, I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE ALISON JACQUES GALLERY, LONDON HAS UPDATED THEIR WEBSITE TO INCLUDE A MORE REPRESENTATIVE SELECTION OF MAPPLETHORPE’S IMAGES – INCLUDING SOME OF MAPPLETHORPE’S PHOTOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATION INTO THE SEXUAL BODY AND MORE WORKS FROM THE EXHIBITION – IN ALL THEIR GLORY! PLEASE SEE THE IMAGES ON THEIR WEBSITE AND REMEMBER, IF YOU DON’T LIKE, DON’T LOOK.

 

 

Nothing SALACIOUS

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to see here

 

According to a tartly written denigration of Mapplethorpe in particular and more generally of photography as art by Guardian critic Jonathan Jones, “Cocks abound. Huge ones. Right at the centre of the main room, just so you don’t miss this basic Mapplethorpian theme, is a giant blow up of a man whose penis would be impressive even in a much smaller print. “Hey, don’t you get it?” Teller in effect is yelling. “This guy was all about cocks!””

 

Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.
Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks. Cocks.

 

There, I’ve said it… because I can’t show it.

 

I’d really LOVE to refute this man’s drivel about Mapplethorpe’s work: “Teller succeeds brilliantly in making Mapplethorpe raw and immediate. Yet he also exposes him as very silly. For if Mapplethorpe was just wildly and naughtily picturing everything in life, willy nilly (but mostly willy), why the heavy monochrome aesthetic?”

But I can’t.

Why not?

 

Because of the

un/solicitous

 

(caring in a discriminatory way, as though to protect an image or reputation)

and

innocuous

 

 

set of press images that I can officially use to illustrate such a daring and radical rethinking of Mapplethorpe’s work by Juergen Teller.

Not the fault of the gallery at all, they have been marvellous sending me the images.

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But they were authorised by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation for press sharing.

 

And there’s the rub.

LIKE RUBBING TWO COCKS TOGETHER.

The paradox of Mapplethorpe’s work: erect genitalia, orifices and violent sex acts teamed with corn, kittens and frogs can be seen in the flesh – but oh, NO!

 

We can’t have them being seen online

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Cocks forbidden

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How can you then judge, from a distance, what the effect of Teller’s pairings are; what delightful nuances of meaning are elicited, are illicit, in those very pairings, if we can’t see them? We can’t. Jones observes that, “Teller strips away that respectability and restores the shock to Robert Mapplethorpe … [revealing] hilarious double entendres in the way Mapplethorpe photographed nature.”

How can we understand the exhibition and the shock of these images … and then critique negative reviews like Jones’ if The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation continues the sanitisation of his work online.

No comment is possible.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Alison Jacques Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Every picture is so strongly composed, and you feel that he really wanted to make that photograph. Not everything is erotic, but he has an interest in life, people, animals and landscapes, and his interest always comes through. I think life is what life is. It has day and night, sunny and grey, and he sees similar characteristics in different things. He cared enormously about how things looked. It all has this same intensity. Within all of that there’s a lot of sensitivity and romanticism in his work too, and a lot of clarity.”

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Juergen Teller

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Pods' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Pods
1985
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Madeline Stowe' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Madeline Stowe
1982
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission
Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Apartment Window' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Apartment Window
1977
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Frogs' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Frogs
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

 

“To coincide with what would have been the 70th birthday of the iconic American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Alison Jacques has invited acclaimed UK-based, German-born photographer Juergen Teller to curate an exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work. Teller worked in collaboration with The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York to make his selection.

Considered one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, Robert Mapplethorpe is currently the subject of a major touring retrospective The Perfect Medium, which opened at the J. Paul Getty Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles in 2016. The exhibition is currently on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada (until 22 January 2017) and will travel to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (October 2017 – February 2018). Mapplethorpe is also the subject of a recently released, Emmy nominated, HBO documentary Look at the Pictures (2016).

Juergen Teller is one of a few artists who, since Mapplethorpe, has been able to operate successfully both in the art world and the world of commercial fashion photography. Alison Jacques, who has represented Robert Mapplethorpe in the UK since 1999, said: “Provocative and subversive, making images which are the antithesis of conventional fashion photography, Juergen Teller was the only choice to curate this special exhibition of Robert’s work. There are obvious parallels between these two artists and I believe Juergen’s eye will bring a new reading of Robert’s work.”

With the permission of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Teller has enlarged two images, each over 4 metres in scale, which, pasted directly onto the gallery’s walls will provide a backdrop to the entire show. One wall will show Mapplethorpe’s first partner David Croland wearing a gag and the other features the model Marty Gibson from Mapplethorpe’s later work posing nude on a beach. Teller’s selection of 48 images exposes works within Mapplethorpe’s archive that have rarely been exhibited before and span Mapplethorpe’s entire career, ranging from the unique Polaroids of the early 1970s to his iconic medium of silver gelatin photographs from the mid-70s through to the late 80s.

Still life features as a prominent theme with unusual subjects including a spoon full of coffee, a set of antique silverware, two coconuts, a television set, and prickly unopened seedpods on a plate. Teller has also chosen a number of images depicting animals, a subject matter that Mapplethorpe is not famously associated with, including a hanging bat, plate of frogs, reclining dog, kitten on a sofa, and horses. Human subjects include some of Mapplethorpe’s key female muses such as Lisa Lyon, but also lesser-known personalities including Cookie Mueller, Lisa Marie Smith and Susan Sarandon’s daughter, Eva Amurri, as a small child. Well-known people in Mapplethorpe’s life are represented including Patti Smith, David Croland and Sam Wagstaff. Teller has also responded to his own German heritage and selected lesser-known portraits of German figures of the time, such as Hans Gert and the photojournalist Gisele Freund. The image of Gert was the first that Tom Baril worked on for Mapplethorpe from his Bond Street Darkroom. Baril continued to be Mapplethorpe’s exclusive printer for over 15 years.

Sexually-explicit images also feature in the exhibition but by interrelating these to a more romantic view of Mapplethorpe’s work, Teller has brought out the essential mission of Mapplethorpe’s work: a life-long quest for perfection of form whatever the subject matter may be.

Short biographies

Robert Mapplethorpe (b. New York, USA, 1946; d. Boston, USA, 1989) mounted over 50 solo exhibitions during his lifetime, including numerous museum shows in the USA, Europe and Japan. Since his death he has continued to be the subject of major institutional exhibitions. In recent years the Tate, in conjunction with other UK museums, acquired 64 works by Mapplethorpe through the Artists Rooms Art Fund and The d’Offay Donation, which culminated in an exhibition at Tate Modern in 2014.

Juergen Teller (b. 1964, Erlangen, Germany) moved to London in 1986, two years after graduating from Munich’s Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Photographie. Since the late 1980s, his photographic works have gained critical acclaim and been featured in an array of influential international publications such as Vogue, W Magazine, I-D and Purple. With his unique photographic sensibility, Teller manages to strike a rare balance between creativity and commercialism, blurring the boundaries of art and advertising, and creating world-class images for collaborators such as Marc Jacobs, Céline, Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. Teller’s solo exhibition Woo! at the ICA in London in 2013 was the most well-attended exhibition in the ICA’s history, and in 2016 he had a major solo museum exhibition in Germany, Enjoy Your Life at Kunsthalle Bonn.”

Press release from Alison Jacques Gallery

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Arthur Diovanni' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Arthur Diovanni
1982
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Cookie Mueller' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Cookie Mueller
1978
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Paris Fashion Dovanna' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Paris Fashion Dovanna
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Tattoo Artists' Son' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Tattoo Artists’ Son
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Michael Reed' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Michael Reed
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Shoes on Plates' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Shoes on Plates
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London

 

 

Alison Jacques Gallery
Orwell House, 16-18 Berners Street
London W1T 3LN
Tel: +44 (0)20 7631 4720

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 6pm
Saturday 11am – 5pm
Closed Sunday and Monday

Alison Jacques Gallery website

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27
Sep
12

Text: ‘The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

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“Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph. There are certain pictures I’ve taken in which you really can’t move that leaf or that hand. It’s where it should be, and you can’t say it could have been there. There is nothing to question as in a great painting. I often have trouble with contemporary art because I find it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to be perfect either. A Picasso portrait is perfect. It’s just not questionable. In the best of my pictures, there’s nothing to question – it’s just there.”

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Robert Mapplethorpe

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Written in 1996 (but never published until now), this is one of my earliest pieces of research and writing. While it is somewhat idealistic in many ways, hopefully this piece still has some relevance for the reader for there are important ideas contained within the text.

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The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body

Photography has portrayed the Apollonian and Dionysian ideals of the body throughout its history, but has never fully explored the theoretical implications and consequences of this pairing. Our presentation of the body says precise things about the society in which we live, the degree of our integration within that society and the controls which society exerts over the innerman.1 My research concentrated on how images of the male body, as a representation of the Self/Other split, have been affected by these ideals.

We can clearly define the Apollonian (beauty, perfection, obsession, narcissism, voyeurism, idols, fascism, frigid, constraint, oppression, the defined, the personalised, an aggression of the eye linked to greed and desire) and Dionysian (ecstasy, eroticism, hysteria, energy, anarchy, promiscuity, death, emotion, bodily substances and the universal). In reality the boundaries between these ideals are more ambiguous.

For example, in the work of the American photographer Fred Holland Day we see allegorical myths portrayed by beautiful youths, many of which to modern eyes have a powerful homoerotic quality.

“In close proximity to eroticism associated with homosocial bonding and sexuality, these pictures were infused with desire and anxiety, repulsion and attraction … Day’s male nudes possess the aesthetic trappings of refined art and high culture … but also contain a frisson of impending sexual release and bodily pleasure, to say nothing of their sado-erotic inflection and paedophilic associations.”2

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According to some critics,3 societies acceptance of photographs of Apollonian or Orphic (Dionysian) youths [2 different critical views]4 in that era (the fin de siecle of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century), was based on what was seen as their chaste, idyllic nature. They represented ‘ephebes’ – males who were between boy and man – who posed no threat to the patriarchal status quo. To other critics5 these ‘ephebes’ present a challenge to the construction of heterosexual/ homosexual identity along gender lines, echoing Foucault’s thoughts on the imprisoning nature of categories of sexual identity.6

For Day, physical beauty was the testimony of a transcendent spirit.7 His portraits tried to uncover the true spirit of his subjects, revealing what was hidden behind the mask of e(x)ternal beauty. But what was being revealed? Was it the subject’s own spiritual integrity, his true self, or a false self as directed by the photographer whose instructions he was enacting? Was it F. Holland Day’s erotic fantasies the subject was acting out, or was it a perception of his own identity or a combination of both? These works show Day as both director and collaborator, his idols equally unattainable and available, resilient and vulnerable. In portraying this beauty, was Day embracing a seductive utopia in which this Apollonian beauty leads away from the very Dionysian spirit he was trying to engage with?

At around the same time a Prussian named Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was also taking photographs of scantily clad local peasant youths, based on Arcadian themes. “In von Gloeden’s perception of the world human figures are not in themselves merely erotic, but become aesthetic objects … a setting in which beautiful things are the content of the image.”8

While this may be true, the focus of the images is always on what Von Gloeden desired, his full frontal nudes drawing our eyes to the locus of sexual desire, the penis. Von Gloeden’s “transformation of ordinary working class boys into the very image of antique legend,”9 the conjunction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, blurs the distinctions between the two. Both Day and Von Gloeden were wealthy, educated, influential men who had a desire for working class boys. Did they help create an erotic tension across class lines and effect a particular Camp taste when society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century) was beginning to define areas of sexual categorisation that would label gay men perverts and degenerates? Even today, comparing contemporary critical analysis of Von Gloeden’s photographs can produce vastly differing conceptualisations as to the evidence of sexual overtones:

“The distinction between form and sexual attractiveness is tenuously maintained and the expression of the subjects’ face suggests a lofty remoteness rather than sexual availability or provocativeness.”10

“Von Gloeden’s pictures are fairly specific in depicting erotically based encounters between Mediterranean males. In many of them, the gazes shared between young men or the suggestive relationships of figure to figure hint at activities that might take place beyond the cameras range.”11

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For Day and Von Gloeden the need to possess something beautiful, something that was taboo, compensated both photographers for something they had lost – their youth. This transfers their death onto the object of their possession; the beautiful youths ‘captured’ in their photographs. Georges Bataille links eroticism to the inner life of man, the true self, and the eroticism of these photographs opens the way to a viewing of death and allows the photographer the power to look death in the face. According to Bataille, possession of something beautiful negates our need to die because we have objectified our need in someone else.12

What we know and understand about the world is partially built on images that are recorded, interpreted and imprinted in our brains as the result of the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. Our memory is forever fragmenting our remembered reality. It provides us with a point of view of the reality of the world in which we live and on which our identities are formed. When we look at a photograph we (sub)consciously bring all of our social encultration, our hates, our desires and our spirit to bear on the definition of that photograph at the time of viewing (an each viewing can be different!). Inherently embedded in any photograph then, are all these Dionysian stirrings – of desire, of eroticism, of death and of memory. Even if the photograph is entirely Apollonian in content the definition of that photograph can be open to any possibility, by any body.

One photographer who sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths was the American photographer Minor White. Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle.13 When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph. White feared public exposure as a homosexual and struggled for years to resist the shame and disgust he felt over his sexual desires. Very few of his male portraits were exhibited during his lifetime, his Dionysian urgings difficult to reconcile with or assimilate into his images of peace and serenity, images that urged unity of self and spirit, of yin and yang. In the East yin/yang is both/and, being transformable and interpenetrating whilst in the West black/white is either/or not both, being exclusive and non-interactive. But who is to say what is ugly or what is beautiful? What is black or what is white?

In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.

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In conclusion I have determined that the definition of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body are at best ambiguous and open to redefinition and reinterpretation. The multiplicity of readings that can be attached to images of the male body, in different eras, by different people illustrates the very problematic theoretical area these images inhabit. As we seek to ‘name’, to categorise, to nullify the ‘Other’ as a Dionysian connection to earth and nature, it may cause an alienated ‘Self’ to revolt against Apollonian powers of control in order to break down the lived distance that divides people. This creates situations/ encounters/ experiences that are regarded as transgressive and a threat to the hegemonic fabric of society.

But do these experiences offer an alternative path for the evolution of the human race? Not the replacing of one patriarchal, capitalist system with another based on ecstatic spiritual consciousness but perhaps a more level playing field, one based on a horizontal consciousness (a balance between Apollonian and Dionysian), a ‘knowing’ and understanding, a respect for our self and others. My claim as an’Other’ is that these perceived transgressions, not just the binary either/or, may ultimately free human beings and allow them to experience life and grow. Where nothing is named, everything is possible.

Marcus Bunyan 1996

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

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1975
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Derrick Cross
1983
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Two Tulips
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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“A renowned figure of contemporary photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was in his element in a domain defined by conventions and revolt, classicism and non-conformist cultures, where each picture serves as a document of hard-fought identities, as well as inciting and recording social and artistic debates. The Ludwig Museum Budapest features nearly two hundred works by Robert Mapplethorpe, from his early Polaroid photos to pieces from his final years. Realised in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York, this large-scale exhibition is presented to a Hungarian audience for the first time.

Initially, Mapplethorpe had no intention of becoming a photographer. His early collages and altar-like installations incorporated found elements including photos from magazines. Seeking to give these works a more personal and perfect touch, he decided to shoot the photos himself. His major subjects were his immediate environment and personal desires: the alternative circles of the New York art scene, his identity as a homosexual, non-traditional forms of sexuality, and the communities organised around them. The New York of the seventies was a great melting pot of contiguous subcultures, sexual freedom, post-Pop and rock’n’roll. Mapplethorpe’s environment included Andy Warhol and his entourage from the Factory, the superstars of his films as well as the inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, who inspired his art and became part of his audience.

His portraits of famous individuals and those longing for fame also positioned their photographer within their circle. He was a renowned artist seeking to establish relationships with people who stand out, one way or another, from the rest of society, without submitting himself to them. Posing for his camera were film stars, musicians, writers and visual artists, the celebrities and central figures of New York in the seventies and eighties, including pornographic film stars and body builders. He made engaging and elegant portraits attesting to his intense attention, humour, and ambition toward a sense of the monumental.

Mapplethorpe developed an increasingly committed and professional attitude to photography. His quest for the perfect image led him to classical compositions and subjects. While precision of forms and a quality of reserve were combined in his works, his intense attention to his models remained unchanged; he photographed torsos and floral still-lifes with the same cool professionalism. His nudes evoke classical Greek statues and Renaissance masterpieces, with their arrangement and sculptural approach to the body dating back to traditions that have existed for several hundred years. Such an incarnation of classical formalism, however, was juxtaposed with shocking new subjects and stark sexual fetishes, resulting in radical re-creations of the approach to tradition.

The perfect image called for the perfect body: his shots of black men, female body-builders and austere flowers seem to articulate his one and only vision, again and again. He almost always worked in the studio, most often in black and white, using increasingly defined tones. With unified backgrounds and balance of forms, his photos remove the subjects from their own realities to relocate them in the timeless, frozen space of the photograph. In terms of their statue-like beauty and rigorous composition of every detail, his pictures continue and renew the classical photographic tradition all at once. Such classical virtues, however, did not make these photos exempt from criticism: both his subject matter and their manner of presentation sparked controversy. Their sexual themes aroused unease, and criticism of the work failed to make a distinction between the statue-like beauty of body parts and torsos, the sexual stereotypes associated with black male bodies, and the objectification of the bodies.

Mapplethorpe’s works created a place for homosexual and S&M identities in the domain of high art, subverting conventions, transgressing unspoken social agreements and revealing prejudices, in line with the artist’s personal desires and self-definition. In the United States, during the eighties, in the first moments of horror in the face of AIDS, the condemnation of homosexuality and the undefined dread of the disease became entwined. Such developments stirred up the already intense controversies around Mapplethorpe’s photos, adding a new overtone to the voice of conservative protesters. (Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and he died in the spring of 1989 due to complications related to the disease).

The cultural-political debates of the so-called Culture Wars in the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States, fuelled the decision of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to cancel its leg of the travelling exhibition “The Perfect Moment,” which included several thought-provoking photos that the conservative right-wing had denounced as obscene and arrogant assaults on public taste. A long and heated debate was to follow, including both hysterical and absurd commentaries, triggering police actions and a trial against a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as well as its director. Though the museum and its director were eventually cleared of all charges, the case continued to shape the cultural-political landscape in the US, which partly concluded in a revision of the public funding of artworks and is still referred to today as an outstanding example of the methodology of censorship.”

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Untitled
c. 1973
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ajitto
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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1. Blain, Robert. The Decorated Body. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979, p.5, Introduction

2. Crump, James. F. Holland Day- Suffering the Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.11

3. Foster, Alasdair. Behold The Man – The Male Nude In Photography. Edinburgh: Stills, 1989, p.9

4. Jussim, Estelle. Slave To Beauty- The Eccentric Life And Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: Godine, 1981, pp.175-176; Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 59

5. Ellenzweig, p.59

6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Against Nature:  Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1991, p.164

7. Day, F. Holland. “Is Photography An Art?” p.8, quoted in Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.20

8. Ellenzweig, p.39

9. Leslie, Charles. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Photographer. New York: Soho Photographic, 1997, p.86

10. Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 95

11. Ellenzweig, p.43

12. Bataille, Georges. Death And Sensuality. New York: Walker And Company, 1962, p. 24

13. Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind – Collected Essays On Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution And Epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973

14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p.331

15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286

16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1

17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10): 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p.208

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Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
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Hungary 06 1 555-3444

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04
Aug
10

Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at NRW-Forum Dusseldorf

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 15th August 2010

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Phillip Prioleau' 1980 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Phillip Prioleau
1980
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe was a classical photographer with a great eye for form and beauty, an artist who explored the worlds he knew and lived (homosexuality, sadomasochistic practices, desire for black men) with keen observations into the manifestations of their existence, insights that are only shocking to those who have never been exposed to these worlds. If we observe that our history is written as a series of interpretive shifts then perhaps we can further articulate that the development of an artist’s career is a series of interpretations, an “investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to recognize ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying.”1 Mapplethorpe was such an artist.

The early work is gritty and raw, exposing audiences to sexuality and the body as catalyst for social change, photographs the “general public” had never seen before. Early photographs such as the sequence of photographs Charles and Jim (1974) feature ‘natural’ bodies – hairy, scrawny, thin – in close physical proximity with each other, engaged in gay sex. There is a tenderness and affection to the sequence as the couple undress, suck, kiss and embrace.

At the same time that Mapplethorpe was photographing the first of his black nudes (Mapplethorpe’s photographs of black men come from a lineage that can be traced back to Fred Holland Day who also photographed black men), he was also portraying acts of sexual progressiveness in his photographs of the gay S/M scene. In these photographs the bodies are usually shielded from scrutiny by leather and rubber but are revealing of the intentions and personalities of the people depicted in them, perhaps because Mapplethorpe was taking part in these activities himself as well as depicting them. There is a sense of connection with the people and the situations that occur before his lens in the S/M photographs.

As time progresses the work becomes more about surfaces and form, about the polished perfection of the body, about that exquisite corpse, the form of the flower. Later work is usually staged against a contextless background (see photographs below) as though the artefacts have no grounding in reality, only desire. Bodies are dissected, cut-up into manageable pieces – the objectified body. Mapplethorpe liked to view the body cut up into different libidinal zones much as in the reclaimed artefacts of classical sculpture. The viewer is seduced by the sensuous nature of the bodies surfaces, the body objectified for the viewers pleasure. The photographs reveal very little of the inner self of the person being photographed. The named body is placed on a pedestal (see photograph of Phillip Prioleau (1980) below) much as a trophy or a vase of flowers. I believe this isolation, this objectivity is one of the major criticisms of most of Mapplethorpe’s later photographs of the body – they reveal very little of the sitter only the clarity of perfect formalised beauty and aesthetic design.

While this criticism is pertinent it still does not deny the power of these images. Anyone who saw the retrospective of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 1995 can attest to the overwhelming presence of his work when seen in the flesh (so to speak!). Mapplethorpe’s body of work hangs from a single thread: an inquisitive mind undertaking an investigation in the condition of the world’s becoming. His last works, when he knew he was dying, are as moving for any gay man who has lost friends over the years to HIV/AIDS as anything on record, are as moving for any human being that faces the evidence of their own mortality. Fearless to the last, never afraid to express who he was, how he felt and what he saw, Mapplethorpe will long be remembered in the annals of visual art.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Foucault, Michel. “What is Enlightenment?,” trans. C. Porter in Rabinow, Paul (ed.,). The Essential Works of Michel Foucualt, 1954-1984. Vol.1. New York: New Press, 1997, p. 315.

.
Many thankx to NRW-Forum Dusseldorf for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Parrot Tulips' 1988 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Parrot Tulips
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ajitto' 1981 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ajitto
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'David Hockney' 1976 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
David Hockney
1976
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe, who was born in 1946 and passed away in 1989, is one of the few artists who truly deserve to be known far beyond the borders of the art world. Mapplethorpe dominated photography in the late twentieth century and paved the way for the recognition of photography as an art form in its own right; he firmly anchored the subject of homosexuality in mass culture and created a classic photographic image, mostly of male bodies, which found its way into commercial photography.

In 2010, the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf will organise a major retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. His work was first shown in Germany in 1977 as part of documenta 6 in Kassel and then in a European solo exhibition in 1981 with German venues in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich. In addition to various museum and gallery exhibitions the largest museum exhibition in Germany of Mapplethorpe’s work took place in 1997 when the worldwide Mapplethorpe retrospective, which opened at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, traveled to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. The last time Robert Mapplethorpe’s works were shown in Düsseldorf was in the exhibition ‘Mapplethorpe versus Rodin’ at the Kunsthalle in 1992.

Both during his life and since his death, Mapplethorpe’s work has been the subject of much controversial debate, particularly in the USA. Right up until the end of the twentieth century, exhibitions of his photographs were sometimes boycotted, censured, or in one case cancelled. His radical portrayals of nudity and sexual acts were always controversial; his photos of sadomasochistic practices in particular caused a stir and frequently resulted in protests outside exhibitions and in one instance, a lawsuits was brought against a museum director.

In 2008, the Supreme Court in Japan ruled that Mapplethorpe’s erotic images did not contravene the country’s ban on pornography and released a volume of his photographs that had been seized and held for over eight years. As far as the American critic Arthur C. Danto was concerned, Mapplethorpe created ‘some of the most shocking and indeed some of the most dangerous images in modern photography, or even in the history of art.’

In Germany, on the other hand, Mapplethorpe’s photographs were part of the ‘aesthetic socialisation’ of the generations that grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s. Lisa Ortgioes, the presenter of the German women’s television programme ‘frau tv’, notes that during this time, Mapplethorpe’s photos were sold as posters; his ‘black’ portraits in particular being a regular feature on the walls of student bedrooms at the time.

The curator of the exhibition, Werner Lippert, is quick to point out that ‘this exhibition needs no justification. Mapplethorpe was quite simply and unquestionably one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. It is an artistic necessity.’

The exhibition in the NRW-Forum covers all areas of Mapplethorpe’s work, from portraits and self-portraits, homosexuality, nudes, flowers and the quintessence of his oeuvre the photographic images of sculptures, including early Polaroids. The photographs are arranged according to themes such as ‘self portraits’, which includes the infamous shot of him with a bullwhip inserted in his anus, as well as his almost poetic portraits of his muse, Patti Smith, the photographs of black men versus white women, the body builder Lisa Lyon, the juxtaposition of penises and flowers (which Mapplethorpe himself commented on in an interview: ‘… I’ve tried to juxtapose a flower, then a picture of a cock, then a portrait, so that you could see they were the same’), and finally those images of classical beauty based on renaissance sculptures, and impressive portraits of children and celebrities of the day.

Despite the obvious references to the Renaissance idea of what constitutes ideal beauty and the history of photography from Wilhelm von Gloeden to Man Ray, this exhibition shows Robert Mapplethorpe as an artist who is firmly anchored is his era; his contemporaries are Andy Warhol and Brice Marden; Polaroids were the medium of choice in the 1970s, and the focus on the body and sexuality was, at the time, for many artists like Vito Acconci or Bruce Nauman a theme that was key to social change. Above all, Robert Mapplethorpe developed his own photographic style that paid homage to the ideals of perfection and form. ‘I look for the perfection of form. I do this in portraits, in photographs of penises, in photographs of flowers.’ The fact that the photographs are displayed on snow-white walls underpins this view of his work and consciously moves away from the coy Boudoir-style presentation of his photographs on lilac and purple walls a dominant feature of exhibitions of Mapplethorpe’s work for many years and opens up the work to a more concept-based, minimalist view of things.

The selection of over 150 photographs covers early Polaroids from 1973 to his final self-portraits from the year 1988, which show how marked he was by illness and hint at his impending death, and also includes both many well-known, almost iconic images as well as some never-before seen or rarely shown works. The curators delved deep into the collection of the New York-based Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to create this retrospective.”

Press release from the NRW-Forum Dusseldorf website [Online] Cited 02/08/2010 no longer available online

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Greg Cauley-Cock' 1980 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Greg Cauley-Cock
1980
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Patti Smith' 1975 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Patti Smith
1975
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self Portrait' 1988 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Lowell Smith' 1981 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lowell Smith
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Thomas' 1987 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Thomas
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

 

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Ehrenhof 2, 40479 Düsseldorf
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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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