Posts Tagged ‘Robert Mapplethorpe Ajitto

21
Jul
16

Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 31st July 2016

 

The Perfect Moment, The Perfect Medium and … Mapplethorpe, that seminal exhibition for Australia that I saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney in 1995.

The technical brilliance, ravishing platinum prints (even though he never printed them himself), formalism, beauty, sensuality and, dare I say it, morality – of his work … fair bowled me over. His was an eye with a innate sensibility – “a quick sense of the right and wrong, in all human actions. And other objects considered in every view of morality and taste.”

I have never forgotten that exhibition, yet until recently there was hardly a sentence online about Mapplethorpe at the MCA. Now, thankfully, there are a some installation photographs and a few lines of text. The exhibition and the lack of information about it was one of the driving forces behind the setting up of this website.

Museums spend inordinate amounts of money putting on these exhibitions and after they are finished and the art work packed up, the catalogue shelved in a bookcase, that’s it. I wanted this website to be a form of cultural memory, where I could record the exhibition objects, installation photos and my thoughts about them so that they could live online.

I had great fun sequencing these images from the Getty (part of a double exhibition with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) second posting to follow): self-portraits in chronological order; portraits of the body as flesh and stone spliced by sculptural grapes; Lily and Lisa Lyon’s leg; the cross-over between tulips and white curtain; the sinuousness of Poppy and fabric of Lisa Lyon’s gown; Hermes/Moody/Sherman; and the blindness of all three men – the perfect Ken Moody, the darker (in both psychological and bodily sense) Ajitto, and the roughest, Jim, Sausalito.

I doubt that Mapplethorpe would have ever have sequenced them thus, but I hope it gives insight and a different perspective into his work.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I don’t understand the way my pictures are. It’s all about the relationship I have with the subject that’s unique to me. Taking a picture and sexuality are parallels. They’re both unknowns. And that’s what excites me most.”

.
Robert Mapplethorpe

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe with trip cable in hand' 1974

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe with trip cable in hand
1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet (each): 9.3 x 11.6 cm (3 11/16 x 4 9/16 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1975

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1975
Gelatin silver print
35.4 x 35.7 cm (13 15/16 x 14 1/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1980

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1980
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 35.6 cm (14 x 14 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1985
Gelatin silver print
38.7 x 38.6 cm (15 1/4 x 15 3/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self-Portrait
1988
Platinum print
58.7 x 48.3 cm (23 1/8 x 19 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Sam Wagstaff' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Sam Wagstaff
1977
Gelatin silver print
35.2 x 35.3 cm (13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Andy Warhol' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Andy Warhol
1983
Gelatin silver print
39.1 x 38.5 cm (15 3/8 x 15 3/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Wrestler' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Wrestler
1988
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Derrick Cross' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Derrick Cross
1983
Gelatin silver print
48.5 x 38.2 cm (19 1/8 x 15 1/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Grapes' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Grapes
1985
Gelatin silver print
38.5 x 38 cm (15 3/16 x 14 15/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lydia Cheng' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lydia Cheng
1987
Gelatin silver print
59 x 49.1 cm (23 1/4 x 19 5/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Melody (Shoe)' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Melody (Shoe)
1987
Gelatin silver print
48.9 x 49.2 cm (19 1/4 x 19 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

“Since his death in 1989, Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) has become recognized as one of the most significant artists of the late 20th century. He is best known for his perfectly composed photographs that explore gender, race, and sexuality, which became hallmarks of the period and exerted a powerful influence on his contemporaries. The J. Paul Getty Museum will present one half of Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, a major retrospective exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, on view March 15-July 31, 2016 at the Getty Center. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) will host the other half of the exhibition March 20-July 31, 2016. The two exhibitions are drawn from the landmark joint acquisition and gift of art and archival materials made in 2011 by the J. Paul Getty Trust and LACMA from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

“The historic acquisition of Mapplethorpe’s art and archival materials in 2011 has enabled our institutions’ curators and other scholars to study and assess Mapplethorpe’s achievement in greater depth than ever before,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The rich photographic holdings in the Getty Museum and LACMA, together with the artist’s archive housed at the Getty Research Institute, make Los Angeles an essential destination for anyone with a serious interest in the late 20th-century photography scene in New York. These exhibitions will provide the most comprehensive and intimate survey of Mapplethorpe’s work ever seen.”

The Getty’s exhibition features the full range of Mapplethorpe’s photographs from his portraits, self-portraits, and figure studies to his floral still lifes. It includes some of Mapplethorpe’s best-known images alongside work that has been seldom exhibited. Key themes include Mapplethorpe’s studio practice, the controversy provoked by the inclusion of his sexually explicit pictures in the 1988-90 retrospective exhibition The Perfect Moment, and the legacy he left behind after his death from AIDS-related complications in 1989.

The exhibition begins with a survey of some of Mapplethorpe’s most familiar portraits, including those of his long-time benefactor and lover Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., poet-musician Patti Smith, and fashion designer Carolina Herrera, among others. It also includes a number of intimate self-portraits, images of artists, and a rarely exhibited series of portraits of the eleven dealers who dominated the downtown New York City art scene during the late 1970s.

Mapplethorpe searched for well-proportioned models and underscored their powerful physical presence through obsessive attention to detail, the precision of their statuesque poses, and sophisticated lighting. This interest becomes evident in examples of the sculptural bodies he enlisted as subjects through the years. In particular, Mapplethorpe was attracted to the color of black skin (he liked to refer to it as “bronze”), and the exhibition includes a number of photographs of African-American models such as Ajitto and Thomas, whom he frequently used to evoke classical themes. Mapplethorpe’s Ken and Lydia and Tyler (1985) suggests the ancient trope of the Three Graces through three models of different racial backgrounds, while select photographs of model Lydia Cheng were further idealized through the application of a shimmering bronze powder on her skin.

One of Mapplethorpe’s frequent subjects was Lisa Lyon, a bodybuilding champion who considered herself a performance artist or sculptor whose body was her medium. After meeting Lyon at a party in 1979, Mapplethorpe and his new model embarked on a six-year collaboration that resulted in 184 editioned portraits. A selection of these images in the exhibition shows her dressed, undressed, and in various guises, ranging from ingénue to dominatrix. In his art Mapplethorpe was a perfectionist who preferred to make photographs in the highly controlled environment of his New York City studio loft. His style was predominately directorial – during a shoot he used short verbal commands and gestures to communicate the poses he wanted his models to strike. Afterwards, he would spend hours reviewing his contact sheets and hired master printer Tom Baril to make finely crafted gelatin silver prints.

“Mapplethorpe was more sophisticated than most people realize,” says Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “He was an artist who understood the value of his own intuition and eye, who taught himself the history of photography, how to network, how to run a studio, and how to keep the public interested in him.”

The exhibition includes a selection of Mapplethorpe’s floral still lifes, which further demonstrate his skill in the studio. In these photographs he imbued orchids, calla lilies, poppies, and irises with an erotic charge through carefully orchestrated compositions and meticulous lighting. The Getty’s installation also features Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio, which depicts the gay s&m community of which he was not just an observer, but a participant. It comprises 13 photographs of sex acts that Mapplethorpe staged for the camera with particular attention to the harmonious arrangement of forms. The careful selection, sizing, sequencing, and packaging of these prints in a luxurious portfolio case wrapped in black silk help to blur the line between fine art and pornography.

The exhibition directly addresses Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, a retrospective exhibition that opened in 1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia before beginning an eight-venue tour. After the exhibition caught the attention of conservative politicians, it was canceled at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., two weeks before its scheduled opening. When it was later shown at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, director Dennis Barrie was arrested and charged with pandering obscenity – a charge of which he was acquitted. The exhibition also traveled to the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA), where it had record-breaking attendance. The Getty exhibition documents the media uproar surrounding The Perfect Moment through items that include a 1989 cover of ArtForum International featuring a protest that took place outside the Corcoran, exhibition catalogues that include images that were considered “obscene,” by some and Mapplethorpe’s photograph of an American flag.

“When planning this exhibition, I wanted the focus to be on Mapplethorpe’s work and not on the sensationalism that accompanied The Perfect Moment. I’ve included it in a small way because that exhibition not only represents a highpoint in Mapplethorpe’s career, but the controversy it engendered puts his sex pictures in a historical context,” says Paul Martineau. “I’m afraid that the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of Mapplethorpe is that controversy. There is so much more to discover about Mapplethorpe and his work than that. He continues to have an enormous impact on the photographic scene.”

The exhibition also emphasizes the care that Mapplethorpe took to craft his legacy. After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, Mapplethorpe continued to work more ardently than ever. In 1988 he established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to steward his own work into the future, provide support for photography at the institutional level, and help fund AIDS research. A 1988 self-portrait on view shows Mapplethorpe’s face revealing signs of illness, his hand gripping a skull-topped cane, a symbol of his impending death. The simple composition and brutal honesty combine to make this photograph one of his most visually and psychologically powerful images.

The two complementary presentations at the Getty and LACMA highlight different aspects of the artist’s complex personality. LACMA’s exhibition underscores the artist’s relationship to New York’s underground, as well as his experimentation with a variety of media. Following its Los Angeles debut, the exhibition will go on an international tour, traveling to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada (8/29/16-1/22/17), the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia (10/28/17-2/4/18), and another international venue. The Getty and LACMA will be the exhibition’s sole U.S. venues, and the exhibitions will be combined and toured as one for the international locations. The LACMA exhibition is curated by Britt Salvesen, Department Head and Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Department of Prints and Drawings at LACMA.

Two books will be published in conjunction with the Mapplethorpe exhibition: Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs by Paul Martineau and Britt Salvesen with an essay by Eugenia Parry and an introduction by Weston Naef, and Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive by Frances Terpak and Michelle Brunnick, with essays by Patti Smith and Jonathan Weinberg.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Orchid' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Orchid
1987
Gelatin silver print
49.1 x 49.2 cm (19 5/16 x 19 3/8 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Calla Lily' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Calla Lily
1988
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lisa Lyon' 1981

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1981
Gelatin silver print
45.1 x 35 cm (17 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Tulips' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Tulips
1988
Gelatin silver print
49.1 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Phillip Prioleau' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Phillip Prioleau
1982
Gelatin silver print
38.8 x 38.8 cm (15 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Tulips' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Tulips
1978
Gelatin silver print
35.4 x 35.4 cm (13 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Flower Arrangement' 1986

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Flower Arrangement
1986
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Flower With Knife' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Flower With Knife
1985
Platinum print
49.2 x 49.5 cm (19 3/8 x 19 1/2 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Poppy' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Poppy
1988
Gelatin silver print
49.1 x 49.2 cm (19 5/16 x 19 3/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
38.4 x 38.4 cm (15 1/8 x 15 1/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
40 x 38.5 cm (15 3/4 x 15 3/16 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Calla Lily' 1986

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Calla Lily
1986
Gelatin silver print
48.6 x 48.6 cm (19 1/8 x 19 1/8 in.)
Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

Text

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Thomas' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Thomas
1987
Gelatin silver print
48.8 x 48.8 cm (19 3/16 x 19 3/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ken and Lydia and Tyler' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken and Lydia and Tyler
1985
Gelatin silver print
38.4 x 38.2 cm (15 1/8 x 15 1/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ken Moody and Robert Sherman' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
Platinum print
49.4 x 50.2 cm (19 7/16 x 19 3/4 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Hermes' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Hermes
1988
Gelatin silver print
49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ken Moody' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody
1983
Gelatin silver print
38.5 x 38.7 cm (15 3/16 x 15 1/4 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Ajitto' 1981

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ajitto
1981
Gelatin silver print
45.4 x 35.5 cm (17 7/8 x 14 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Jim, Sausalito' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Jim, Sausalito
1977
from The X Portfolio
Selenium toned gelatin silver print mounted on black board
19.5 x 19.5 cm (7 11/16 x 7 11/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Patrice, N.Y.C.' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Patrice, N.Y.C.
1977
from The X Portfolio
Selenium toned gelatin silver print mounted on black board
19.5 x 19.5 cm (7 11/16 x 7 11/16 in.)
Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
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Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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19
Aug
15

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).

Marcus
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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
1984
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-Portrait' 1980

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self-Portrait
1980
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Leather Crotch' 1980

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Leather Crotch
1980
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
Self-Portrait
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Patti Smith' 1979

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti Smith
1979
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Poppy' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Poppy
1988
Unique dye transfer
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

Exhibition themes

BODY SCULPTURE

“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.
.

BODY AND GEOMETRY

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.
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STILL LIFES AND BODY DETAILS

“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.”
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CHAPEL & COLOUR BRACKET

“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.
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MAPPLETHORPE AND WOMEN

“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.
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PORTRAITS

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.
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EROS

“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.
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POLAROIDS

“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.
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STILL MOVING

“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.
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ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE – PORTRAITS

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
Ajitto
1981
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-Portrait' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self-Portrait
1988
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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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
1095 Budapest  Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday: 10.00-20.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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04
Aug
10

Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at NRW-Forum Dusseldorf

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 15th August 2010

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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.

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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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.

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Phillip Prioleau’
1980
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Parrot Tulips’
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Ajitto’
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘David Hockney’
1976
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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“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

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Greg Cauley-Cock’
1980
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Patti Smith’
1975
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Self Portrait’
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Lowell Smith’
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
‘Thomas’
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

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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.

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NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft
Ehrenhof 2, 40479 Düsseldorf
Tel.: +49 (0)211 – 89 266 90
Fax: +49 (0)211 – 89 266 8

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11:00 to 20:00
Friday until 24:00

NRW-Forum Dusseldorf website

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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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