Posts Tagged ‘classical Greek statues

24
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘nude men: from 1800 to the present day’ at the Leopold Museum, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2012 – extended until 4th March 2013

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Martin Ferdinand Quadal. 'Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude' 1787

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Martin Ferdinand Quadal
Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude
1787
© Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

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Joseph-D_sir_Court_Tod_des_Hippolytos-WEB

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Joseph-Désiré Court
Death of Hippolytus
1825
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération

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François-Léon Benouville. 'Achills Zorn' 1847

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François-Léon Benouville
Achills Zorn
1847
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier

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“When we stop and think about it, we all are naked underneath our clothes.”

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(Heinrich Heine, Travel Pictures, 1826)

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A great posting. I used to have a print of Querelle by Andy Warhol on my wall when I was at university in London aged 17 years old – that and We Two Boys Together Clinging by David Hockney. My favourite in this posting is the painting Seated Youth (morning) by Austrian expressionist painter Anton Kolig. Such vivacity, life and colour, perhaps a post-coital glow (was he straight, bisexual, gay? who cares, it is a magnificent painting). There is very little information on Kolig on the web. Upon recommendation by Gustav Klimt and Carl Moll Kolig received a 1912 scholarship for a stay in Paris, where Kolig studied modern painting at the Louvre. He enlisted in the First World War in 1916 and survived, continuing to work in paint, tapestries and mosaic during the postwar years and the 1920s. He received two offers for professorships in Prague and Stuttgart, he opted for the Württemberg Academy in Stuttgart, where he trained a number of important painters later. In addition, his work was also shown internationally at numerous exhibitions. He was persecuted by the Nazis and his art destroyed because it was thought to be “degenerate” art. Kolig, which was essentially apolitical, remained until the fall of 1943 in Stuttgart, where he felt less and less well, however, and eventually returned to Nötsch. On 17 December 1944 Kolig was buried with his family in a bomb attack and seriously injured. Much of his work was destroyed here. He died in 1950.

For more information on the male body in photographic history please see the chapter “Historical Pressings” from my PhD research Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (2001). The chapter examines the history of photographic images of the muscular male body from the Victorian to contemporary era. The pages are not a fully comprehensive guide to the history and context of this complex field, but may offer some insight into its development.

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Many thankx for the Leopold Museum, Vienna for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Anon. 'Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg' 16th Century casting after Roman Original

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Anon
Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg
16th Century casting after Roman Original
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Antiquities

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Anon. 'Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty' around 2400 BC

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Anon
Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer
Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty, around 2400 BC
© Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna with MVK and ÖTM, Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection

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Auguste Rodin. 'The Age of Bronze' 1875/76

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Auguste Rodin
The Age of Bronze
1875/76
© Kunsthaus Zurich

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Anton Kolig. 'Seated Youth (morning)' 1919

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Anton Kolig
Seated Youth (morning)
1919
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 406

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“Previous exhibitions on the theme of nudity have mostly been limited to female nudes. With the presentation “naked men” in the autumn of 2012 the Leopold Museum will be showing a long overdue exhibition on the diverse and changing depictions of naked men from 1800 to the present.

Thanks to loans from all over Europe, the exhibition “naked men” will offer an unprecedented overview of the depiction of male nudes. Starting with the period of Enlightenment in the 18th century, the presentation will focus mainly on the time around 1800, on tendencies of Salon Art, as well as on art around 1900 and after 1945. At the same time, the exhibition will also feature important reference works from ancient Egypt, examples of Greek vase painting and works from the Renaissance. Spanning two centuries, the presentation will show different artistic approaches to the subject, competing ideas of the ideal male model as well as changes in the concept of beauty, body image and values.

The exhibition, curated by Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold, traces this theme over a long period and draws a continuous arc from the late 18th century to the present. Altogether, the showing brings together around 300 individual works by nearly 100 female and male artists from Europe and the USA. The objective of the two curators Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold was “to clearly show the differing artistic approaches, competing models of masculinity, the transformation of ideas about the body, beauty and values, the political dimension of the body, and last but not least the breaking of conventions.”

“Over the past few years, portrayals of nude males have achieved a hitherto unseen public presence,” says Elisabeth Leopold. To which Tobias G. Natter adds, “At the same time, this exhibition is our way of reacting to the fact that categories which had previously seemed established, such as ‘masculinity’, ‘body’ and ‘nakedness’, have today become unstable for a broad swath of society.”

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Diversity and abundance: showing for what “nude men” could stand

Elisabeth Leopold remarks that, “In the run-up to our project, we were very surprised to note that some commentators expected a ‘delicate’ exhibition. But in fact, we had no intention of treating the theme in such a way – with reserve, with tact, or in any other way delicately. And we did not understand this topic to be at all delicate in terms of an exhibition on art history somehow requiring a degree of discretion.” A project like nude men would be entirely unthinkable without the experiences and impulses of feminist art as well as cultural history, cultural studies and gender studies. With the exhibition nude men, the Leopold Museum seeks to react to the circumstance that societal categories commonly thought to be firmly established – such as “masculinity”, “body” and “nakedness” – are currently undergoing major changes.

By seizing on these developments, we understand the museum to be an institution which is relevant to today’s society – that is to say, a place for both the present and the future. Tobias G. Natter: “Our objective is to show the diversity and transformation of the portrayal of nude men in light of clearly defined thematic focuses. With fresh curiosity, without traditional scholarly prejudices, and with fascination for an inexhaustibly rich field, we use this exhibition to draw an arc spanning over 200 years which, not least, make a theme of the long shadow cast by the fig leaf.”

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The exhibition

The exhibition traces its theme from the late 18th century to the present day. It has three key historical themes: the classical era and the Age of Enlightenment around 1800, classical modernism around 1900, and post-1945 art. These three themes are introduced by a prologue.

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Prologue

The exhibition’s three focuses are preceded by a prologue. Using five outstanding sculptures from European art history, the prologue illuminates this theme’s long tradition. It runs from the “oldest nude in town” – a larger-than-life freestanding figure from ancient Egypt – and the statue known as the Jüngling vom Magdalensberg to Auguste Rodin and Fritz Wotruba, and on to a display window mannequin which Heimo Zobernig reworked to create a nude self-portrait.

Tobias G. Natter: “The curatorial intention behind prologue was to have the audience stroll through nearly five millennia of Western sculptural art in just a few steps. This is meant both to communicate both the long tradition of such images and to highlight the degree to which nude men were taken for granted to be the foundation of our art. These five thousand years form the exhibition’s outer referential frame. Strictly speaking, the showing begins in earnest with the Age of Enlightenment and the period around 1800.”

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Three out of five characters from the Prologue "naked men"

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Three out of five characters from the Prologue “naked men”

Anon
Freestanding figure of the court official Snofrunefer
c. 2400 B.C.
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

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Auguste Rodin
The Age of Bronze
1875/76
© Kunsthaus Zürich

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Heimo Zobernig
Untitled
2011
© VBK, Vienna, 2012

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Paul Cézanne. 'Seven Bathers' ca. 1900

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Paul Cézanne
Seven Bathers
c. 1900
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel

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Edvard Munch. 'Bathing Men' 1915

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Edvard Munch
Bathing Men
1915
Munch Museum, Oslo
© The Munch Museum/The Munch Ellingsen Group/VBK, Vienna 2012

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Wilhelm von Gloeden. 'Flute Concert' 1905

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Wilhelm von Gloeden
Flute Concert
1905
Verlag Adolph Engel, private collection

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Richard Gerstl. 'Nude Self-portrait with Palette' 1908

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Richard Gerstl
Nude Self-portrait with Palette
1908
© Leopold Museum, Wien

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Egon Schiele. '“Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd) ["Preacher" (Nude with teal shirt)]' 1913

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Egon Schiele
‘”Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd)’ [“Preacher” (Nude with teal shirt)]
1913
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 2365

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Theme 1: Classicism and the Power of Reason

In the 18th century and beginning in France, the emancipation of the bourgeois class and the swan song of the Ancien Régime occasioned a renegotiation of concepts of masculinity with both societal and aesthetic implications. The naked male hero was defined anew as a cultural pattern. It became the embodiment of the new ideals.

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Theme 2: Classical Modernism

A new and independent pictorial world arose in the late 19th century with the casual depiction of naked men bathing in natural, outdoor settings. The various ways in which artists dealt with this topic can be viewed together as a particularly sensitive gauge of societal moods. In the exhibition, the genre is represented with prominent examples by Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Wilhelm von Gloeden, Max Liebermann, Ernst Ludwig

Kirchner and others. Classical modernism’s quest for a new artistic foundation also had its impact on the topics of nakedness and masculinity. But what happened when the painter’s gaze wandered on from the naked other to the naked self? A principle witness with regard to this phenomenon in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna is Egon Schiele. With his taboo-breaking self-reflections, he radicalized artists’ self-understanding in a way that nobody had before him. Elisabeth Leopold: “The shift of the painter’s gaze from the naked opposite to the exposed self gave rise to the nude self-portrait – a shining beacon of modernism.”

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Theme 3: Post-1945 Developments

In light of the abundance of interesting works from which to choose, the exhibition’s third theme comprises three specific focuses. Common to all three is the way in which the political potential of the naked body is explored. The first of these focuses concentrates on the battle fought by women for legal and social equality during the 20th century.

Outstanding examples of the intense way in which feminist artists have dealt with their own bodies as foils for the projection of gender roles can be found in the output of Maria Lassnig and Louise Bourgeois, whose works are included in the exhibition alongside others by younger woman artists. It was pioneers such as Lassnig and Bourgeois who set in motion the process which, today, underlies feminist art’s steadily increasing presence in terms of interpretation, resources, norms, power, and participation in the art business. The second area introduces artistic works that interlock nude self-portraits and the culture of protest, which bears great similarities to feminist criticism – the naked self between normativity and revolt.

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The one issue is the nude self-portrait as a field for experimentation and a phenomenon which questions artistic and societal identities. The other issue has to do with substantive contributions to the gender debate, as well as with artists who take the crisis of obsolete male images as an opportunity to put forth self-defined identities. The third focus, finally, lies in the shift in roles in which the man goes from being the subject to being the object, in fact becoming an erotically charged object – perhaps one of the most fundamental shifts in terms of the forms via which nude men have been portrayed from 1800 to the present. Gay emancipation, in particular, served to radically cast doubt upon normative concepts of masculinity, which it opposed with its own alternative models. In this exhibition, these are represented above all in paintings that feature intimate closeness and male couples.

As the opening of this exhibition neared, a frequently-asked question was that of why the project is being undertaken. Tobias G. Natter’s response: “There are many reasons. But most importantly: because it is overdue.”

Press release from the Leopold Museum website

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Bruce Nauman. 'Untitled (Five Marching Men)' 1985

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Bruce Nauman
Untitled (Five Marching Men)
1985
© Friedrich Christian Flick Collection / VBK Wien 2012

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Gilbert & George. 'Spit Law' 1997

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Gilbert & George
Spit Law
1997
© Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris • Salzburg

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Elmgreen & Dragset. 'Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)' 2009

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Elmgreen & Dragset
Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)
2009
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
© Courtesy Galleri Nocolai Wallner / VBK Wien 2012

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Thomas Ruff. 'nudes vg 02' 2000

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Thomas Ruff
“nudes vg 02”
2000
Ed. 3/5
© Private collection Cofalka, Austria/with the kind support of agpro – austrian gay professionals
© VBK, Wien 2012

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Jean Cocteau. 'Male Couple Illustration for Jean Genet’s Querelle de Brest' 1947

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Jean Cocteau
Male Couple
Illustration for Jean Genet’s ‘Querelle de Brest’

1947
© Private collection © VBK, Wien 2012

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Louise Bourgeois. 'Fillette (Sweeter Version)' 1968, cast 1999

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Louise Bourgeois
Fillette (Sweeter Version)
1968, cast 1999
© Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland © VBK, Wien 2012

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Pierre & Gilles. 'Vive la France [Long live France]' 2006

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Pierre & Gilles
Vive la France [Long live France]
2006
© Private collection, Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

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Andy Warhol. 'Querelle' c. 1982

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Andy Warhol
Querelle
c. 1982
© Privatsammlung/ VBK, Wien 2012

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Leopold Museum
Museums Quartier, Museumsplatz 1
1070 Vienna, Austria

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm
Thursdays: 10am – 9pm
Closed on Tuesdays

Leopolod Museum 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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Hungary 06 1 555-3444

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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