Posts Tagged ‘Robert Mapplethorpe Thomas

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:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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08
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Grand Palais, Paris

Exhibition dates: 26th March – 13th July 2014

Grand Palais
Galerie sud-est, entrée avenue Winston Churchill

 

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

 

 

“I have boundless admiration for the naked body. I worship it.”

“I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child. It still shows in how I arrange things. It’s always little altars.”

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

.
Robert Mapplethorpe

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014

Installation view of the exhibition 'Robert Mapplethorpe' at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014

 

Installation views of the exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe at the Grand Palais, Paris 2014
© Didier Plowy pour la Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris 2014

 

 

“The exhibition will present over 250 works making it one of the largest retrospective shows for this artist ever held in a museum. It will cover Mapplethorpe’s entire career as a photographer, from the Polaroids of the early 1970s to the portraits from the late 1980s, touching on his sculptural nudes and still lifes, and sadomasochism.

The focus on his two muses Patti Smith and Lisa Lyon explores the theme of women and femininity and reveals a less known aspect of the photographer’s work. The challenge of this exhibition is to show that Mapplethorpe is a great classical artist, who addressed issues in art using photography as he might have used sculpture. It also puts Mapplethorpe’s art into the context of the New York art scene in the 1970-1980s.

In his interview with Janet Kardon in 1987, Mapplethorpe explained that photography in the 1970s was the perfect medium for a fast-paced time. He did not really choose photography; in a way it was photography that chose him. Later in the same interview, he said “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 a sculpture. Lisa Lyon reminded me of Michelangelo’s subjects, because he did muscular women.”

Mapplethorpe positioned himself from the outset as an Artist, with a capital A. Unlike Helmut Newton, who as a teenager already wanted to be a fashion photographer, and imposed his vision of the world and photography, making it an art in its own right, Robert Mapplethorpe is a sculptor at heart, a plastic artist driven by the question of the body and its sexuality and obsessed by the search for perfect form.

Like Man Ray, Mapplethorpe wanted to be “a creator of images” rather than a photographer, “a poet” rather than a documentarist. In the catalogue for the Milan exhibition which compared the two artists, Bruno Cora recalls the parallels in their lives and works: “Before becoming masterly photographers, Man Ray and Mapplethorpe had both been painters and sculptors, creators of objects; they both lived in Brooklyn in New York; they both made portraits of the intellectuals of their time; and they were both incisive explorers of the nude form, its sculptural qualities and the energy emanating from it.”

Mapplethorpe was an artist before being a photographer. His images come from a pictorial culture in which we find Titian (The Flaying of Marsyas / Dominick and Elliot), David, Dali, and even the great artists of the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Bernini …

As in Huysmans’s novel, the exhibition is a countdown for this other dandy from the end of another world, Robert Mapplethorpe. It starts with his self-portrait with a skull-headed cane, the image of a young man already old, the tragedy of a life cut down in full flight by AIDS. But his almost royal final posture, as if beyond death, still (just) alive but already in the posterity of his oeuvre, seems to beckon us with a gesture of his pastoral cane to follow him into the world that he constructed in twenty years of photography. The exhibition continues with statuary, a dominant theme in Mapplethorpe’s last years, photos of statues of the gods in his personal pantheon: Eros, of course, and Hermes … The artist always said he used photography to make sculptures, and he ended his oeuvre with photographs of sculptures. His nudes were already photographic sculptures.

Works are not created just anywhere. To be fully appreciated, Mapplethorpe’s art must be put into the socio-cultural context of arty New York in the 1970s and 80s, and the underground gay culture there at that time. Two permeable and equally radical worlds. To take the measure of the libertarian explosion of the time, we need to watch Flesh, Warhol’s film with Joe Dalessandro, which narrates 24 hours in the life of a young New York male prostitute. To understand the violence and passion of gay sexuality for young New Yorkers fighting for freedom in a repressive period, we must read Edmund White’s The Beautiful Room is Empty, the story of a young gay in the years of riots and demonstrations and extreme emancipation; and Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance (1978), to plunge into the sexual experiments of Fire Island in the 1970s.

Mapplethorpe is hailed as one of the world’s greatest photographers and the exhibition aims to give a broad view of his work.”

Press release from the Grand Palais website

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Milton Moore' 1981

 

Robert Mapplethorpe 
Milton Moore
1981
50.8 x 40.6 cm / 50.8 x 40.6 cm
Silver gelatin prints
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Milton Moore' (detail) 1981

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe 
Milton Moore (detail)
1981
50.8 x 40.6 cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ken Moody' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody
1983
50.8 x 40.6 cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Introductory text

“Robert Mapplethorpe was an artist with an obsessive quest for aesthetic perfection.

A sculptor at heart, and in his imagination, he wanted “people to see [his] works first as art and second as photography.”1 An admirer of Michelangelo, Mapplethorpe championed the classical ideal – revised and reworked for the libertarian New York of the 1970s – and explored sophisticated printing techniques to create unique works and mixed compositions, which he framed in unusual ways.

Like the novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, this exhibition has been organised “À rebours” [against the nap] and examines the work of another dandy, living at the end of another world. It opens with Mapplethorpe’s self-portrait with the skull-head cane: the image of a young man, already old, tragically cut down in the prime of life by AIDS, it also reveals how the master of the realm of shadows – photography – gave free rein to his imagination. Like a modern day Orpheus, beyond death, he seems alive – although only just – yet already in the afterlife of his work, beckoning us with his satanic cane to follow him into the underworld of his life, in search of his desire.

“Photography and sexuality have a lot in common,” explains Mapplethorpe. “Both are question marks, and that’s precisely what excites me most in life.”2 Exploring the photography of the body, he pushed it to the limits of pornography, perhaps like no other artist before him. The desire we see in these images – often the photographer’s own desire – also reflects life in New York, as lived by some, in the 1970s and 80s, at the height of the sexual liberation movement. “I’m trying to record the moment I’m living in and where I’m living, which happens to be in New York. I am trying to pick up on the madness and give it some order.”3

This retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work – the first in France since he passed away – features some two hundred and fifty images exploring a range of themes. They cover every aspect of Mapplethorpe’s art – bronze bodies and flesh sculptures, geometric and choreographic, still lives and anatomical details, bodies as flowers and flowers as bodies, court portraiture, night photography, and eroticism, soft and hard – interspersed with self-portraiture in all its forms. The works from the photographer’s early career, which close the exhibition, reveal how the path taken by his art was already mapped out in his first Polaroids. The sign of a great artist.”

1 Inge Biondi, “The Yin and the Yang of Robert Mapplethorpe,” in The Print Collector’s Newsletter, New York, January 1979, p. 11
2 Mark Thompson, “Mapplethorpe,” in The Advocate, Atlanta, 24 July 1980
3 Sarah Kent, “Mapplethorpe,” in Time Out, London, 3-9 November 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Thomas' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1987
61 x 50.8 cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Calla Lily' 1986

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Calla Lily
1986
92.7 x 92.7 cm
Silver gelatin print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'The Sluggard' (Le Paresseux) 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
The Sluggard (Le Paresseux)
1988
61 x 50.8 cm
Silver gelatin print
New York, Fondation Robert Mapplethorpe
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-portrait (Autoportrait)' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self-portrait (Autoportrait)
1988
61 x 50.8 cm
Platinum print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Grand Palais, Galeries Nationales
3, Avenue du Général Eisenhower
75008 Paris

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Monday and Sunday 10 am – 8 pm
Closed every Tuesday

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23
Oct
13

Exhibition: ‘Flowers & Mushrooms’ at the Museum der Moderne Mönchsberg, Salzburg, Austria

Exhibition dates: 27th July – 27th October 2013

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Many thankx to the Museum der Moderne Mönchsberg 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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Giovanni Castell. 'Tulpomania 3 / Vergissmeinnicht' 2009

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Giovanni Castell
Tulpomania 3 / Vergissmeinnicht
2009
C-Print/Plexiglas (Diasec)
130 x 160 cm
Courtesy the artist

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Peter Fischli / David Weiss. 'Mushrooms / Funghi 18' 1997/98

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Peter Fischli / David Weiss
Mushrooms / Funghi 18
1997/98
Inkjet print with Polyester Foil
73.8 x 106.7 cm
Bavarian State Painting Collections Munich – Pinakothek der Moderne
Acquired by PIN, Friends of the Art Gallery of modernity for the Modern Collection Art
© The artists; Gallery Sprueth Magers Berlin, London; Galerie Eva Presenhuber Zurich; and Matthew Marks Gallery New York

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Michael Wesely. 'Still life (29.12. - 4.1.2012)' 2012

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Michael Wesely
Still life (29.12. – 4.1.2012)
2012
C-Print, UltraSecG, Metallrahmen
100 x 130 cm
Courtesy Galerie Fahnemann, Berlin
© VBK, Wien, 2013

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Marc Quinn. 'Landslide in the South Tyrol' 2009

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Marc Quinn
Landslide in the South Tyrol
2009
Oil in canvas
168.5 x 254 x 3 cm
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris . Salzburg
Foto: Ulrich Ghezzi

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MdM_Flowers_Rist_Funkenbildung-der-domestizierten-Synapsen-WEB

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Pipilotti Rist
Sparking of the Domesticated Synapses
2010
Video installation; Projector and Media Player, miscellaneous
Objects, Regal, Quiet
Video: 5:34 min
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Zürich
© The artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine, New York
Foto: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich

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“For some time now, there has been a renaissance of flowers and mushroom themes in fine art. The comprehensive exhibition Flowers & Mushrooms explores the clichées and the various levels of meaning and symbolism of flowers and mushrooms in art. Current social and aesthetic issues are discussed on the basis of a selection of works from the fields of photography, photo-based paintings, video and sculptures/installations.

Today flowers are primarily associated with their decorative function. They also have a symbolic meaning both at weddings, where they represent freshness and fertility, and at funerals, where they represent transitoriness and death. An in-depth exploration of the varied symbolic meanings of flowers in cultural history reveals further levels of meaning, many of which refer to the ambivalence and abysms of human existence. Contemporary art adopts and continues the historical and complex pictorial tradition of flowers and mushrooms by adding new, contemporary perspectives. The exhibition was inspired by the multi-part work series Ohne Titel (Flowers, Mushrooms) by the artist duo Peter Fischli/David Weiss. The Swiss artists have been preoccupied with the role of clichées and common subjects for many years. Different slide projections with a comprehensive series of inkjet prints and cibachromes included crossfadings of flower and mushroom motifs.

At the beginning of the exhibition, a historical section shows photographs from the 19th and early 20th century. In particular the new medium of photography developed a special relationship with flower motifs. Photographs of the great variety of different plant and flower species serve as a kind of substitute for the traditional herbarium or as natural models, as “prototypes of art” for ornamental design lessons. From the early beginnings of photography, scientific interest motivated pioneers such as William Henry Fox Talbot or Anna Atkins to capture amazing pictures of plants.

Later on, the affirmative exaggeration of the decorative character of the flower inspired none other than Andy Warhol to take up a simple, photographically reproduced flower motif in his work Flowers (from 1964); through serial repetitions he ironically exaggerated the motif and conferred iconic status on banal everyday objects. Artists such as David LaChapelle and Marc Quinn continue the baroque symbol for opulence with the aggressive colourfulness of their impressively grand flower arrangements, but also emphasize the simultaneously existing threatening moment, when the boundlessness can take on a devouring character.

For some time now, there has been a renaissance of flowers and mushroom themes in fine art. The works of leading “portraitists” of flowers and mushrooms, such as Peter Fischli/David Weiss, David LaChapelle, Marc Quinn, Sylvie Fleury, Nobuyoshi Araki or Carsten Höller, continue the multi-faceted and long pictorial tradition of flowers, which is unparalleled in the history of art. At the same time no other motif is so easily suspected of trivialism. The question arises of how a subject that is frequently accused of being trivial and shallow has been able to gain ground in a field of art that is generally regarded as serious and sophisticated. The picture of a flower is too easily associated with the idea of harmless beauty and the mushroom with cliché-like hallucinogenic states of conscousness. Nevertheless many artists increasingly adopt these motifs, adapt them and find individual ways to put them into the context of sociocritical, feminist, political and media-reflexive art.

It is only at first glance that David LaChapelle and Marc Quinn continue the baroque symbol for opulence with their impressively grand flower arrangements that reveal a threateningly devouring character upon closer inspection. Female artists such as Vera Lutter, Paloma Navares and Chen Lingyang reflect upon flowers in a specifically female way, using them as a symbol for their own identity-defining sexuality, but also for their vulnerability and exposure and thus elevate the flower to a sociocritical and political level. With almost scientific interest, Andrew Zuckerman and Carsten Höller take an analytical view of the morphological characteristics of flowers and mushrooms in their photographs and installations which create an impressive immediacy. The erotic photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki and Robert Mapplethorpe draw parallels between a blossom and the male and female body and create a field of tension between still life and nude. The wilting flower as a classic symbol of vanity is depicted by Michael Wesely in his long-exposure photographs, which accompany the life of a flower from full bloom to its wilting while emphasizing their beauty to the very end. Contrastingly, the monstrous, towering plants of the “desolate” video installations created by Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg are devoid of any loveliness and have a menacing effect. They depict violence and abuse give flowers a particularly irritating and disconcerting touch by breaking with their generally positive connotation.

Flowers and buds symbolize eroticism in general, their appearance creating associations with the female and masculine gender (sexual organs) specifically and thus have a sensual appeal. Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe have a reputation as early forerunners of this sexualized and yet apocalyptic perception of flowers. They both implemented this special perception – erotically charged and aloof at the same time – in their photographs by drawing analogies to the human body in their sculptural treatment of the flower. Female artists such as Vera Lutter, Paloma Navares and Chen Lingyang reflect upon flowers in a specifically female way, using them as a symbol for their own identity-defining sexuality, but also for their vulnerability and exposure and thus elevate the flower to a sociocritical and political level.

Thanatos, or death, is closely related to Eros. The wilting flower as a symbol of vanity is depicted by Michael Wesely in his long-exposure photographs, which accompany the life of a flower from full bloom to its wilting while emphasizing their beauty to the very end. The flower monstrosities of the “desolate” video installations by Nathalie Djurberg, which deal with violence and abuse, are devoid of any loveliness and even have a threatening effect.

Both in their natural environment and in cultural history, mushrooms are on the shadow side. Mushrooms are mainly associated with dubious alchemism and witchcraft, are desired and feared as hallucinogenic and have become an integral part of art and literature. Similar to flowers, mushrooms have a long tradition in art history and appear frequently within the context of artistic productions. Sylvie Fleury, for example, controls space with a “forest” of overdimensional mushrooms, whose surface is covered with car paint, thus increasing their intrinsic character of a foreign body. Their over-dimensional size, and glittering appearance evokes scenes from “Alice in Wonderland”, where the protagonist eats from a mushroom to makes her grow or sink. Carsten Höller, by contrast, explores mushrooms with almost scientific interest and documents their individuality and uniqueness in detailed colour photographs or converts them into larger-than-life-size, large-scale sculptures and display cabinets.

The particular appeal of this exhibition organised by the curators of the MdM SALZBURG lies in the comparison and confrontation of the different levels of meaning of images of flowers and mushrooms and their controversial positions in contemporary arts. The title of the exhibition has been inspired by the series of C-prints by the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli/David Weiss with the title “Flowers, Mushrooms”. Flowers & Mushrooms presents a selection of important works from the fields of photography, photo-based paintings, video and sculpture/installation art with floral motifs, spanning the time from the early beginnings of photography to the immediate presence. Selected works on loan accentuate the focal points and main themes of the exhibition by raising current social and aesthetic issues and thus allow a closer inspection of the multi-faceted symbolic use of flowers and mushrooms. At the same time, new levels of meaning are opened, referring to the ambivalent and mystical dark side of human existence. The exhibition shows how contemporary art adopts and continues the historical and complex pictorial tradition of flowers and mushrooms by adding new, contemporary perspectives. A historical section with photographs from the 19th century and of Classical modernism complements the exhibition and shows, how photography as a new medium has developed a special relationship with floral motifs.

The exhibition features works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Anna Atkins, Eliška Bartek, Christopher Beane, Karl Blossfeldt, Lou Bonin-Tchimoukoff, Balthasar Burkhard, Giovanni Castell, Georgia Creimer, Imogen Cunningham, Nathalie Djurberg, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Peter Fischli/David Weiss, Sylvie Fleury, Seiichi Furuya, Ernst Haas, Carsten Höller, Judith Huemer, Dieter Huber, Rolf Koppel, August Kotzsch, David LaChapelle, Edwin Hale Lincoln, Chen Lingyang, Vera Lutter, Katharina Malli, Robert Mapplethorpe, Elfriede Mejchar, Moritz Meurer, Paloma Navares, Nam June Paik, Marc Quinn, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Zeger Reyers, Pipilotti Rist, August Sander, Gitte Schäfer, Shirana Shahbazi, Luzia Simons, Thomas Stimm, Robert von Stockert, William Henry Fox Talbot, Diana Thater, Stefan Waibel, Xiao Hui Wang, Andy Warhol, Alois Auer von Welsbach, Michael Wesely, Manfred Willmann, Andrew Zuckerman.”

Press release from the Museum der Moderne Monchsberg website

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Paloma Navares. 'Vestidas de Sede' 2009

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Paloma Navares
Vestidas de Sede
2009
C-Print on Diasec
125 x 125 cm
Courtesy MAM MARIO MAURONER Contemporary Art, Salzburg-Vienna
© VBK, Wien, 2013

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Flower' 1988

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Flower
1988
Silver gelatin print
71.1 x 68.6 cm
© The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Thomas' 1987

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1987
Silver gelatin print
71.1 x 68.6 cm
© The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York

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Luzia Simons. 'Stockage 104' 2010

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Luzia Simons
Stockage 104
2010
Scannogramm
Lightjet Print / Diasec
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy ALEXANDER OCHS GALLERIES BERLIN ǀ BEIJING
© VBK, Wien 2013

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Katharina Malli. From the series 'Dead nature' 2012

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Katharina Malli
From the series Dead nature
2012
Digtal C-Print
40 x 60 cm
KUNSTIMFLUSS; eine Initiative von VERBUND

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Flowers & Mushrooms exhibition texts

The title of the exhibition refers to the name of different slide projections and comprehensive photo series created by the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli/David Weiss, which show cross-fadings of flowers and mushrooms. Fischli/Weiss began with photo series of everyday motifs back in 1987, and ten years later they used 2400 pictures from their extensive archive to make a cross-fading video with a duration of eight hours. Their general aim was to present the entire visual world they had encountered and documented on their excursions or long travels. Ten years later, the seemingly endless impressions of sights and attractions of the old and new world became limited to flowers and mushrooms, whose pictures overlap in double exposures and appear as a kind of hybrid: as newly created “living beings” between the world of flowers, associated in art history with all kinds of christological and erotic symbolism, and the world of mushrooms, which are not plants and are mainly known for their toxicity. Peter Fischli and David Weiss made the representation of flowers and mushrooms, which had mainly been restricted to calendars and trivial photo books respectable and presentable in contemporary visual arts. The time was ripe for this, even though pictures of flowers and mushrooms had experienced a kind of renaissance in contemporary art before: The ongoing interest in artistic productions dealing with different plants and mushrooms seems to confirm this.

Nevertheless the question arises, how the “flower image” which was frequently accused of triviality in the past, has been able to gain ground in sophisticated and serious art. Pictures of flowers could too easily be associated with the idea of harmless beauty and those of mushrooms with cliche-like, hallucinogenic states. For some years, many artists have nevertheless adopted these motifs, adapted them and found individual ways to put them into the context of sociocritical, feminist, political and media-reflexive art.

Many of the artists represented here in this exhibition deliberately continue this multi-faceted tradition which testifies to a respectable history the “flower picture”: Integrated into the context of Christian iconography in late antiquity and the Middle Ages until the Renaissance period, it timidly began to develop an autonomy during the Baroque period as a result of the newly arising scientific interest in the morphology of flowers and the related wish to classify them encyclopaedically. The rise of the “flower image” to a significant motif that appeals to the audience came to a temporary standstill in the 19th century, when it became an empty academic shell. It re-gained importance only during the Art Deco and New Objectivity period and even became a model for some contemporary forms of expression. While flowers have always been used as photographic motif all over the world due to their beauty and their specific shapes, which are frequently associated with human genitals, mushrooms seem to have inspired most artists who used them in their works due to their sculptural potential and possibly their hallucinogenic effect.

Our exhibition wants to present the use of flowers and mushroom in contemporary art photography, slide and video projections, installations, sculptures and photo-based paintings in all its different faces and assign the works to different themes for better understanding, however without clear boundaries between the individual categories. In a kind of art-historical prologue with the Latin title Species Plantarum we want to show, how scientists and artists have dealt with the representation of plants and blossoms and more rarely of mushrooms since the mid-19th century -parallel to the invention of photography – in photographic studies and “still lifes”. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose shows that even seemingly trivial photographs of a flower or a mushroom viewed with disinterested pleasure can and should no longer be regarded as neutral and is linked with connotations of everyday experience and cultural education. Les Fleurs du Mal focuses on cryptic and unfathomable, abysmal aspects hidden in flower motifs. The works presented in the section Garden of Earthly Delights establish connections between gender, eroticism and sexuality – but also transitoriness and death – and the symbolism of flowers and associations used by many artists in their works. Nature versus artificiality finally heralds human interventions in nature and the wish to control and experiment with nature and the reflection of this development in visual art.

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Species Plantarum

The 19th century was marked by social upheavals, which allowed civil society to intervene in many areas, such as politics, humanism and cultural history, but also natural sciences. The publication of Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) Origin of Species (1859) intensified the public interest in forms of nature and increased the significance of natural phenomena. This not only encouraged the scientific curiosity of scientists, but also inspired artists to find new approaches to representing nature.

The newly discovered medium of photography, (further) developed out of the desire for an accurate reproduction for scientific purposes and used for various optical and chemical experiments, expanded the range of artistic forms of expression. Artists with an interest in botany eagerly and enthusiastically applied new techniques -such as nature prints, airbrush techniques or photogenetic drawings -and also embraced the new medium and instantly recognized its potential, inspired by pioneers such as Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). Early photographic experiments found their expression in the floral Art Nouveau style and in teaching concepts and teaching aids. The most famous collection of designs was Urformen der Kunst/ Art Forms in Nature (1928) by Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932). His photographs became incunabula for the representation of plant-derived forms using the precise stylistic means of New Objectivity.

The artistic impulses of the following decades contributed to an exploration of nature through alternative cognitive forms. Photography detached itself from the primacy of representation, dominated by form and surface stimuli, and turned towards visual stimuli for the human power of imagination.

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Anna Atkins

The botanist and illustrator Anna Atkins (1799-1871) is regarded as pioneer of photography. Her father, the British chemist, mineralogist and zoologist John George Children (1777-1852) aroused her passion for natural sciences. At a time when there was no scientific education for women, ladies from noble families had to content themselves with being “amateur helpers” for their fathers and husbands and worked in the background, compiling herbariums and making drawings. Through her friendship with the physicist John Herschel (1792-1871), who closely collaborated with William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Atkins became familiar with cyanotype, a printing process invented by Herschel, and began to use this new photographic printing process for mapping scientific samples. The first photographic herbarium was published under the title Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1854, comprising 12 issues with 389 illustrations. The photograms, which get their characteristic blue colour on the parts of the paper exposed to light from the use of an iron complex, produce particularly accurate representations of the plants. Their special allure is their diaphanous appearance. Anna Atkins’s works, which were forgotten for a long time, are today regarded as a milestone in the history of scientific and photographic illustration and have contributed to the rediscovery of cyanotype as printing technique.

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Alois Auer von Welsbach

Alois Auer von Welsbach (1813-1869) was an Austrian printer, inventor and illustrator specializing in books on botany. He was head of the “k.u.k. Hof-und Staatsdruckerei” printing company founded in 1804 in Vienna and developed it into a large-scale enterprise that offered all state-of-­the-art printing techniques and methods of representation known at that time. The printing company became renowned for its nature prints developed and perfectioned by Auer in cooperation with Andreas Worring. Nature printing is a printing process that uses natural objects to produce an image. Dried or pressed objects are placed between a plate of steel and another of lead and drawn through a pair of zinc rollers under considerable pressure to produce in impression in the leaden plate. The printing plate is produced by electrotyping, also called galvanoplasty. Gravure printing is used for plants. The use of several colours in one printing cycle produced polychrome and particularly “authentic” prints. Until today no printing process has been able to surpass the high level of detail of this technique. For Auer nature printing was as important as photography, and he published books to promote this printing process. “Auers Naturselbstdruck” was patented in 1852 and released for general use in 1853. Over the centuries nature printing has been used for decorating everyday objects and for illustrations on substrates such as papyrus, parchment and paper.

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Robert von Stockert

In the 1890s a small community of aristocrats and upper class people with an interest in arts established the “Club der Amateur-Photographen” (Club of Amateur Photographers) – later re­named “Wiener Kamera-Club”. Their photographs were largely influenced by painting. Members of the club include many famous names such as Heinrich Kühn (1866-1944), but also less famous contemporaries such as Carl Brandis (active around 1885-1900), Franz Holluber (1858-1942) or Robert von Stockert (1848-1918), who specialized in flower still lifes. For von Stockert, nature was an interesting theme for various reasons: He had the ambition to contribute to the “development of photographic art”, benefited from his own gardens and the decorative talent of his daughters and used his photographs for book illustrations. He regularly published his experience in illustrated supplements to the association’s publication “Wiener Photographische Blätter”. His pictorial vocabulary ranges from purely decorative flower arrangements to sophisticated still lifes. To convey the colourfulness of his motifs, von Stockert experimented with various techniques, both with photographic techniques, like the use of various colour filters and sensitive plates, and with reproduction techniques. His favourite printing techniques include platinum print, which provides a particularly rich and intensive range of grey nuances. For colour reproductions he used the new multicolour collotype process.

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Karl Blossfeldt

The plant photographs of German photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865 -1932) are milestones in the transitions from the playfully stylizing Art Nouveau style to the unemotional, cool spirit of “New Objectivity” and have become incunabula of the history of photography. His motivation behind his imagery and motifs is rooted in his education as sculptor and modeler in an art foundry. At the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin – today the Universität der Künste (University of the Arts) – he collaborated in a project of his art teacher Moritz Meurer and compiled teaching aids for ornamental design. As lecturer for “modelling from plants” he received an official assignment in 1889 which provided further impetus for the production of illustrative material. Blossfeldt became famous for his book Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) (1928); another volume – Wundergarten der Natur (Magic Garden of Nature). A sequel to Art Forms in Nature ­was published in 1932. The photographs here on display are a small selection from a collection of 6,000 pictures, whose clarity, rich contrast and acutance testify to his technical precision, craftsmanship and passion for photography and teaching. Graphic details, structures, forms and surfaces are emphasized by the targeted selection of details, magnified 2 to 45 times. Blossfeldt achieves a sculptural effect by using a monochrome, light background and thus liberates the plants from their natural context.

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Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

What Getrude Stein wrote in the mid-1920s and later became so influential and was often misunderstood, can be used as a motto for the works here on display, but also to point out ironically that the use of flower motifs is trivial only at first sight.

Like portraits or interieurs, flower pictures are part of the repertoire of art history. Even more so: No living being is used more frequently in symbolism than the flower, and few subjects are as complex as the history of the flower motif. In the past, flower still lifes were used to convey encrypted and symbolic messages, most of which are lost to us today. We no longer know the symbolic meaning of the individual flowers or their arrangements. Many artists have used floral themes in their work, as a reaction to the apparent triviality of the century-old flower motif, and have so continued this traditional theme. Today the flower motif has become the basis for new reflections and observations.

The oldest photographers whose works are here on display – Ernst Haas and Balthasar Burkhard – already liberated the flower from its temporal and spatial context and focused on depicting the flower not as a decorative still-life at the height of its beauty, but as a fragile plant subjected to instability and transformation. The American photographer Andrew Zuckerman portrays crystal-clear, razor-sharp images of different blossoms with an accurate eye, capturing the fine details of their surface structure and colour transitions. His strict staging abandons the common understanding of flowers and releases them from their context. As a result, Zuckerman’s pictures assume an almost cool, abstract quality.

Christopher Beane shares a similar love for details. His close-up pictures of petals convey sensuousness and opulence. As a staging photographer he completely restrains himself and entirely leaves the stage to his protagonists, allowing them to unfold their full beauty in exciting, suspenseful intersections, contours and curves. The scannograms by Luzia Simons show an opulence and splendour that reminds us of traditional Dutch still lifes of flowers. The large-format photographs are thoughtful reflections on the proud, but also tragic role of the tulip in the early 17th century Netherlands in connection with the “tulip mania”, which is generally considered the first recorded speculation bubble. In Giovanni Castelli’s photographs, flowers appear as mysterious plants, monumental and unreal at the same time. The artist finds his motifs in nocturnal parks, capturing close-ups of colourful flowers against a jet-black sky. The result are eerily beautiful flower portraits which seem to be from another world and elegantly refute our conventional visual concepts.

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Carsten Höller

*1961 in Brussels/Belgium, lives and works in Stockholm/Sweden

Carsten Höller, who has a doctorate in agricultural science, works at the frontier between art and natural science. Dissatisfied with the restrictive structures of the academic world, he turned his back on it and chose the path of greatest-possible openness: he became an artist. “As an artist I do not have to submit to any formalistic constraints and can develop things as far as I think makes sense in a particular framework, without always having to undergo specialist training in the relevant fields.” Höller has not abandoned his first life, but combines the two disciplines, which appear to be so different from one another, in a highly idiosyncratic and humorous manner. He creates bizarre hybrid forms from a variety of types of mushrooms. He either grows them to a threatening height or exhibits them, like jewels in a glass cabinet, in orderly rows as though in a natural-history museum. Fly agaric is always present. Höller explores this mushroom and its hallucinogenic effects in great detail. In this context he is on the trail of a mysterious potion called soma, which is thought to have been made of fly agaric and was used for ritual purposes as early as the second century BC. Drinking it is said to impart good fortune and riches, the power to be victorious, and awareness and access to the divine sphere.

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Hans­ Peter Feldmann

*1941 in Düsseldorf/Germany, lives and works in Düsseldorf

The large-format photographs of flowers by Hans-Peter Feldmann are at first glance reminiscent of the floral postcards of the 1950s: we see flowers popular at the time, such as roses and lilies, in close-up in front of a neutral, colourful background. The colour aesthetic of flower and background, too, corresponds to the time. Clear and uncompromising, the blossoms present themselves to the viewer in their full glory, while simultaneously appearing distant and artificial. In this respect they do not match today’s ideas of the bourgeois idyll. The magnification makes the kitschy look sublime. The blossom appears like a fetish behind glass, frozen for the next millennium. Feldmann has always been interested in the everyday and the banal. He lives his passion for collecting at flea markets and in his own shop of knick-knacks. He often works with found materials such as postcards and newspaper cuttings. The photographs shown here are not enlargements of these collected objects, however. They were created by Feldmann, based on the aesthetic of the small-format postcards of which they are ironic imitations. Feldmann’s artistic concept includes the practice of not dating and not signing his works: “Bakers don’t sign their rolls either, do they? Art has to taste and smell, one has to be able to experience it.” For Feldmann, one of the first concept artists, the works of art are already there. He considers it to be his job to find them. They should not lose their vitality despite the transformation.

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Luzia Simons

*1953 in Quixadá/Brazil, lives and works in Stuttgart and Berlin/Germany

The tulip is, in the eyes of Luzia Simons, an element that connects cultures, and a symbol of transcultural identity. As a nomad among flowers, the tulip was brought to Europe from Asia, and connects the Orient and the Occident. It is at home both here and there, and has established itself as a virtu despite having been transferred via several different cultures. The tulip conquered the Netherlands in the late sixteenth century, and tulips featuring special colours and patterns commanded exorbitant prices on the market in a rapidly expanding “tulip mania”. Speculation with tulip bulbs led to a speculative bubble. The bubble burst in 1637, with far-reaching social and economic consequences. Simons sets the scene for the majestic and simultaneously tragic character of the tulip, as well as for its long-standing traditions, in her series entitled Stockage. The artist stages the flowers in large-format arrangements in which they surge towards the viewer in bright colours out of a neutral darkness, revealing their beauty and fugacity in sharp focus. Both through the inescapable vanitas concept and in its painterly effect Simons’s oeuvre is reminiscent of Baroque still lifes. Paradoxically, Simons makes use of a very modern method to generate the images, however: the flowers are “read” by a scanner before they are printed using a carbon-printing process, and finally they unfold their vibrant depth effect behind acrylic glass.

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Peter Fischli / David Weiss

*1952 in Zurich/Switzerland, lives in Zurich / *1946 in Zurich, †2012 in Zurich

The Swiss artist duo Fischli/Weiss began work in 1979 and was highly successful in the spheres of film, photography, sculpture, art books and video installations. Cryptic and playful, often seen as though through the eyes of children, they re-arranged art and the everyday in their work. Their subtly ironic works, which often appear to be imbued with subversive nonsense messages, received numerous international awards. From kinetic experimental arrangements using everyday objects to interpersonal re-enactments using sausage leftovers: Fischli/Weiss transformed the apparently banal and the absurd into art. For this reason the flower motif also entered the work of Fischli/Weiss from 1997 onwards. The Flowers series (1997/98) exists in two presentation forms: colour prints, and a double-slide projection. It shows a chaotic view of nature, as though from an ant’s perspective, using a hallucinatory and intensely colourful technique of superimposition. The arrangement of double and quadruple exposures and the resulting translucent layering of close-ups of flowers, mushrooms, snails and many other things creates the impression of a nature that is unordered and exuberant, unreal and simultaneously beautiful. This playful approach to reality and appearance, the conceptual claim of the visualisation of the world – in this case nature, which is just “there” and is in no need of legitimisation in order to be shown in the context of art – and the interest in the banal, in combination with a more serious artistic interest, constitutes the framework that encompasses the entire oeuvre of die Fischli/Weiss.

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Les Fleurs du Mal. Reality and Appearance

In his poetry collection Les Fleurs du Mal (1857-1868) the French writer Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) painted a picture of a pessimistic modern city dweller that is characterized by despondency, anger and rebellion against all conformities. Man is torn between Christian morality, the good ideal and virtuousness on the one hand and the reprehensible and yet appealing fascination with the evil and ugly on the other hand, and forced to establish a new position for himself continuously.

What the artists represented in this part of the exhibition and Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal have in common is their questioning of conventional views on beauty and morality, symbolized by flowers which are generally regarded as beautiful, and the deliberate discussion of the transience of beauty as well as socio­political principles and ethics. In particular the vanity theme is directly related to the “Flowers of Evil”, as it belies the human desire for eternal beauty and eternal life. Bourgeois decadence in the form of Baudelaire’s positive re-interpretation is no longer a common term today, but has a stronger presence than ever in the classic meaning of the decline of a social system, in particular with reference to the frequently heralded fall of capitalism. In the 21st century artists approach this subject in a differentiated way. Works closely related to traditional genres of art history, such as the still life, exist side by side with current series of works dealing with the concept of time as such, for example by intensely visualizing the blossoming and withering of flowers or linking this with socio-political issues. The delightful moment of the pictures and materials is sometimes opposed to the subject matter or explicitly border-crossing contents.

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Marc Quinn

*1964 in London/Great Britain, lives and works in London

Marc Quinn’s 2009 paintings Landslide in the South Tyrol and Aleppo Shore from 2010 are based on photographs that he took of model landscapes he himself had composed. To this end he arranged lush and colourful plant ensembles in his studio. Drawing on Baroque bouquets, which are artificial creations and consciously unnatural in their composition, Quinn negates the passing of the seasons and combines plants that do not blossom at the same time as each other. His enormous square compositions confront viewers with paradisiacal gardens bursting with life, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in an apparently idyllic, magical world. Closer inspection reveals that the white surface to which the luminosity is owed is in fact a snowfield, and this causes consternation. The first impression of cheerful colourfulness and light-heartedness dissipates and the scenery that is now perceived as artificial suddenly feels threatening in a very subtle way. In the midst of life we are surrounded by death! The viewer is surrounded not by a lively garden landscape, but by an arrangement of frozen, dead plants. The unnatural brightness of the colours, which knows no soft nuances, points to the artificially generated world, and reveals the difference between beautiful appearances and reality. One senses that critique of civilisation is a driving force: the artist exposes humankind’s reckless approach to nature because we are willing to sacrifice nature for the sake of its perfect beauty.

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Eliška Bartek

*1950 in Nov Jičín/former Czechoslovakia, lives and works in Berlin/Germany and Lucerne/Switzerland

For the series Und Abends blüht die Moldau Eliška Bartek uses highly sensitive film that blurs the contours while simultaneously making details as visible as though they are being viewed through a microscope. As a result the surfaces of the flower petals appear exquisitely delicate and fragile. This feeling corresponds to the traditional symbolism of flowers. They are viewed as the ultimate symbols of the beauty of the moment, which already contains the seeds of transience. The flowers come from a Berlin wholesaler or are cut fresh by the owner of a botanical garden in Pila, a small village in Ticino. Bartek exposes them to particular light influences and in this way alters their colours. In addition to the extreme magnification and closely framed composition of the pictorial subjects it is this intense colourfulness in particular, further enhanced by the dark background and dramatically heightened by unusual light and shadow effects, that creates an extraordinary vitality and releases the pictorial subject from its static nature. For a short time the photo artist breathes an intoxicating beauty into the blossoms, for which the flowers pay the ultimate price: the extreme light burns the delicate petals and destroys the natural splendour. Bartek’s subtle play with reality and appearance, or with artificiality and naturalness, also points to the fallibility of our perception.

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Vera Lutter

*1960 in Kaiserslautern/Germany, lives and works in New York/USA

With the project Samar Hussein Vera Lutter reveals herself to be a socio-critical artist who rescues the civilian victims of the Iraq war from oblivion and creates a memorial to them. More than 120,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion by the American army in March 2003. They are referred to in military jargon as “collateral damage” – an appalling word that downplays the suffering for which it stands. The artist has gathered the names and dates for her work of art from the Iraq Body Count Project. The biggest publicly accessible database of this kind worldwide, it records the civilians who have lost their lives in military and paramilitary campaigns, and documents the collapse of public safety following the invasion. Lutter uses the image of a budding, blossoming and finally wilted and withered hibiscus blossom as a metaphor for the human life cycle. The artist sees analogies between human life with its beauty and fullness, as well as its vulnerability and destructibility, on the one hand, and the tones of this flower, reminiscent of the colour of flesh, and the sensuous shape of its blossom, on the other hand. The names of the dead are superimposed on the printed and projected photographs in chronological order according to the date of death. The first picture is named after Samar Hussein. It is for this 13-year-old girl, the first civilian victim to have been recorded in the database, that the art project as a whole, Vera Lutter’s remarkably poetic and touching elegy for the senseless casualties of war, is named.

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Paloma Navares

*1947 in Burgos/Spain, lives and works in Madrid and Alicante/Spain

Paloma Navares’s oeuvre spans the fields of photography, sculpture, installation and performance, and explores historical female positions in our society. Navares, who suffers from a rare eye condition that will eventually lead to the loss of her eyesight, employs her memory, which she refers to as her “inner eye”, as an artistic device. The multimedia artist uses a poetical pictorial language that aims to draw the viewer’s attention in a delicate and subtle way to existential human questions: might putative mistakes or what society judges to be incapacity lead to recognition after all? The photographs of delicate orchid blossoms tell of the fates of women, and are in some respects symbolic. They stand, for example, for Meerabai, a late-fourteenth-century princess from northern India who wrote love songs and laments, and who, as a devotee of Krishna, vehemently opposed marriage. The pressure exerted on her by society at court forced her to commit suicide by drinking from a poisoned cup. Female Korean entertainers, known as kisaeng, were similarly despised and judged by society for their nonconformity. Navares’s depictions of flowers are homages to great female poets of past eras whose lyrical works were ignored and who, in the face of the contempt with which society treated them, chose to die by their own hands. The images represent a plea for justice and self-determination, and simultaneously stand for grace, strength and beauty.

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Garden of Earthly Delights

Flowers and blossoms have always held a great fascination for man and are symbolically and culturally linked with love, beauty, youth and sensuality. Opulent flowers are thus instinctively associated with eroticism and seduction, but also inevitably with the aspect of transitoriness. From a biological point of view, the attraction of flowers is due to their signal effect for the purpose of pollination and thus reproduction and survival of a plant species. Not only poems use flowers as metaphor for human desire; the flower as analogy for man and corporeality is also found in fine arts. Artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Nobuyoshi Araki and Rolf Koppel combine nudes with floral still lifes and both in form and context refer to the sensual analogies to the erotic desires of man. Robert Mapplethorpe has made the most explicit comments on the relationship between flowers -in particular blossoms with strongly emphasized seeds such as the calla or anthuria -and the phallus. Mapplethorpe once said that his way of photographing a flower does not differ significantly from his way of photographing male genitals. The natural scientist Carl von Linné (1707-1778), who established the basis for modern botanical and zoological classifications, commented two centuries ago on the relationship between the corporeality of plants, animals and man. “We look at the genitals of plants with pleasure, those of animals with revulsion and our own with wondrous thoughts.” In his writings he poses the question, who is aware that the flowers a man gives to the woman he adores are “cut-off genitals of higher plants” and that the floral splendour must mut be regarded as “sexual intercourse of plants”? Within the context of cultural history, plants have been used until today as a symbol for the sexuality of man which is still a taboo.

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Chen Lingyang

*1975 in Zhejiang province/China, lives and works in Beijing/China

The subject of Chen Lingyang’s twelve-part series of photographs Twelve Flower Months is the artist’s monthly cycle, which is associated with twelve different flowers. The viewer sees twelve geometric formats that correspond to traditional Chinese window and door shapes. They feature reflections of Chen Lingyang’s vagina, and the menstrual blood that drips from it. The shape of the mirror, too, varies from month to month. The viewer is supposed to feel disturbed by the juxtaposition of flowers – which are the ideal expression of the beauty of nature – and the bleeding genitals. Looking at the mirror, a Western symbol of flirtatiousness and beauty, viewers simultaneously become secret viewers of an intimate depiction. The apparent contrast also reveals unusual similarities, however: Chen Lingyang shows two natural cycles of growth and decay. The artist herself has commented on this work that “in traditional Chinese culture there is the idea of the person who lives in harmony with nature. … To me, ‘nature’ refers most importantly to the laws and rhythms of the universe. And these laws and rhythms are connected to cycles. It is easy for a woman to observe this from monthly physiological and psychological changes.”

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Nature vs. artificiality

“Planting means to dig holes to force nature to become unnatural (cultural). […] Owing to the gesture of planting man has lived in an artificial world since the Neolithic period”, the media philosopher and communication scientist Vilém Flusser (1920 – 1991) once said. In this way he descriptively refers to the general circumstance that we can no longer view nature as something “given”, but as something that is “man-made” and constructed and controlled by man. Accordingly, culture has monopolized nature and its original autonomy to a large extent.

The main purpose of fine arts as a cultural manifestation is not only aesthetic edification. Artists, in particular modern and contemporary artists, also serve as introspective seismographs for development processes of civilization. Their thinking, designs and creations bring about a change of perspective that goes beyond conventional acceptance and reception and thus refers to phenomena that inspire the viewer to reflect and take a closer look. The preoccupation with flower and mushroom motifs also has to be understood in this context. Primarily decorative and trivial at first glance, their meta levels contain far-reaching statements.

The installation of the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist explores socially standardized patterns of behaviour of civilized man. Rist makes these patterns tangible in her works by depicting the way people deal with artfully arranged flower decorations. In a comparable, yet differing way Gitte Schäfer explores nature and its “domestic use” in her flower wall. About three hundred small flower vases with an artistically kitschy design are affixed to a wall of diagonally placed mirrored tiles and filled by the artist with cut flowers in the form of a symmetrical picture.

The transient splendour of the flower arrangements symbolizes earthly transitoriness and were a characteristic feature of 17th century Baroque still lifes. The Italian term for this category of painting ­natura morta -also alludes to the notion of vanity. In her four-part work series with the same title, the Austrian artist Katharina Malli shows close-up coloured pictures of crops and ornamental plants against a neutral white background, whose aesthetics deliberately quote the documentary style of Karl Blossfeldt (1865 -1932). Upon closer inspection, they are industrially produced artificial flowers. As perverted products of civilization they represent this dead nature and at the same time symbolize the notion of immortality. Dieter Huber’s works also focus on artificially generated nature and play with the wishful thought of potential immortality. In his work series he presents apparently “documentary” pictures of plant hybrids that herald a “brave new world”. The works by Nam June Paik and Zeger Reyers create a concrete connection between nature and technology. The instruments used, such as TV sets and record players, symbolically refer to social progress and are an expression of human inventiveness. They emphasize “manmade” things, juxtapose them with naturally occurring objects and thus describe them in relation to one another.

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Andy Warhol

*1928 in Pittsburgh/USA, †1987 in New York/USA

By the second half of the twentieth century the flower as an artistic motif had become insignificant. It had become overburdened with the general suspicion of triviality and kitsch. However, Pop Art, which took a deliberate interest in the world of trivial imagery, immersed itself in this subject. Andy Warhol’s Flowers are exemplary of the approach of Pop Art artists. Warhol based his flowers on a folded insert in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine, a reproduction of a colour photograph of seven hibiscus blossoms. The photograph had been taken by the editor in chief, Patricia Caulfield, and was included as an illustration accompanying an article about a Kodak colour processor. Warhol cropped the photograph to alter the pictorial format, number and arrangement of the blossoms. Numerous variations of what was now a square image were then produced using the screen-printing process, differing from one another in colour and size. In total, more than 500 pictures of flowers must have been produced in this way. The Flowers appear to float in a diffuse space, detached from the background and unconnected to their stalks and leaves. In some versions the blossoms and the pictorial ground are painted by hand in DayGlo colours, further emphasising this impression. Warhol presented the prints in such a way that they covered entire gallery walls as though they were wallpaper. In this way he succinctly demonstrated the plant’s natural potential for rank growth as well as its technical reproducibility as a decorative mass subject.

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Dieter Huber

*1962 in Schladming/Austria, lives and works in Vienna and Salzburg/Austria

Since as early as 1986 Dieter Huber has worked with photography that is optimised and altered using computer technology. The three works from the KLONES series, which were executed from 1994 onwards and thus explored genetic engineering and manipulation at a very early date, are doubtless among the pioneering works in computer-generated images. Huber commented on them that “the construction of a world that could be freely disposed of in all respects according to one’s will and imagination was still considered highly vexing at the time.” The three plant studies in the exhibition are – at first glance – razor-sharp photographs of flowers, each before a black background. Well-known types of flowers such as tulips, carnations, narcissuses, daffodils, roses and lilies are reminiscent of a grandmother’s garden. Closer inspection causes consternation, however: various types of flowers grow out of the same greenery, rose stalks are crowned by lily blossoms, and daffodils, lilies and tulips all grow out of the stem of a trumpet flower. Artificially created, impossible-looking crossings have long since found entrance into our real world. Almost all livestock breeds and crop plants used in agriculture were developed through decade-long crossing. Perhaps the surreal floral worlds of Dieter Huber will really exist one day?

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Christopher Beane. 'Study of fungus' 2004

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Christopher Beane
Study of fungus
2004
From the Farm House series
C-Print
60 x 50 cm
Courtesy of the artist

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Lou Bonin-Tchimoukoff. 'Rayograph #35 - #75' Paris, 1928

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Lou Bonin-Tchimoukoff
Rayograph #35 – #75
Paris, 1928
Gelatin silver print
23.8 x 17.8 cm
Courtesy Galerie Johannes Faber, Wien

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Imogen Cunningham. 'Two Callas' c. 1925

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Imogen Cunningham
Two Callas
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
Estate Prints, 2013
21.5 x 17 cm
Austrian Gallery, Museum of Moderne Salzburg
The Imogen Cunningham Trust, 2013

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David LaChapelle. 'Late Summer' 2008-2011

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David LaChapelle
Late Summer
2008-2011
C-Print
152 x 110 cm
Courtesy of the Artist ROBILANT + VOENA, London – Milan

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MdM Mönchsberg
Mönchsberg 32
5020 Salzburg, Austria

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Wednesday: 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Monday: closed

MdM Mönchsberg website

19
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe’ at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 23rd October 2012 – 24th March 2013

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One of the reasons for setting up Art Blart nearly five years ago was the idea of an exhibition archive – the cataloguing of the blog’s posts so that featured exhibitions did not ephemerally drift off into virtual space. This is one of the problems of a blog, with its roll-through postings one after the other. Thankfully, I recognised the need for a taxonomic ordering of the information early on in the life of the blog, so that Art Blart has now become a form of cultural memory.

The impulse for this idea was the memory of seeing the Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney in 1995 (and an outstanding experience it was) and being able to find nothing about this exhibition online. Search for that seminal exhibition in Australia and there is nothing, not a web page, not an installation image, press release, absolutely nothing.

Hopefully there will be a reorganisation of the archive pages in the near future, so that the information will be split into Australian exhibition titles; Australian artists and organisations; International exhibition titles; International artists and organisations under an A-Z rubric.

Marcus

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This exhibition runs concurrently with that of the last posting, Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). 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.

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Early Work

Born in Queens, New York, Mapplethorpe studied graphic arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. His early work included collage, found objects, and jewelry. Before he took up the camera, Mapplethorpe often used pictures he cut out of magazines as collaged elements to explore sexuality and eroticism. By altering this fetishistic image and re-presenting it in a shadow box, Mapplethorpe removed the picture from its original context and elevated it to a homoerotic icon. The five-pointed star is a symbol of religious significance and the plastic mesh covering the figure evokes the metal screens commonly found in confessionals in Roman Catholic churches.

In 1972 Mapplethorpe met two influential curators: John McKendry, who gave him a Polaroid camera, and Samuel Wagstaff Jr., who became the artist’s lover and mentor. By the mid-1970s, Mapplethorpe had acquired a medium format camera and began documenting New York’s gay S&M community.

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Robert Mapplethorpe.
 'Leatherman #1' 1970

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Robert Mapplethorpe

Leatherman #1
1970
Mixed media print
9 7/16 x 6 3/4 in
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Portraits

Mapplethorpe met writer-musician Patti Smith in 1967, and they lived together as intimate and artistic partners until 1974. This image of Smith was one of his earliest celebrity portraits. 

The two collaborated to create this image as the cover for her 1975 debut rock album, Horses. Working in a borrowed apartment, Mapplethorpe suggested using a wall adjacent to a window where a triangle of light fell at a certain time in the afternoon. Smith dressed in men’s clothes and channeled the American entertainer Frank Sinatra with her jacket slung over her shoulder. Her uncombed hair and androgynous air broke radically from the image that the music industry expected women in rock to assume.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Patti Smith' Negative 1975; print 1995

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti Smith
Negative 1975; print 1995
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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A man’s jacket slung over one shoulder, the cuffs of her shirt cut off with scissors, the Bohemian poet and performer Patti Smith levels her gaze outward with authority and calm. The set of her jaw and lift of her chin suggest she wears confrontation lightly. Simultaneously, a waifish delicacy haunts her tiny body. She touches the ribbon around her neck with long fingers cupped near her heart – a shy gesture and nod to the garb of the 19th-century Romantic poets she admires. With quiet ferocity, the portrait hovers between masculine and feminine, strength and vulnerability.

Intimately bonded in life and work, Mapplethorpe and Smith made this image for the cover of her debut rock album, Horses. It is one of his earliest celebrity portraits, a genre in which he went on to distinguish himself. He often amplified the glamour of his subjects, but modernized conventional portrayals with provocative depictions of race, gender, and sexuality. For example, record executives, concerned that Smith with her lack of makeup and messy hair wasn’t conventionally pretty enough to sell records like other “girl singers,” wanted to airbrush this image. Knowing Mapplethorpe would back her up, Smith refused and the image and album shaped the start of both their iconoclastic careers.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ken Moody and Robert Sherman' 1984 Platinum print

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
Platinum print
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Flowers and Still Lifes

Mapplethorpe refined his style in the early 1980s, creating images of timeless elegance. After his erotic nudes, his delicate floral still lifes encouraged sexual interpretations. Although floral still lifes have traditionally held these connotations, Mapplethorpe transformed them from a subject that sophisticated collectors were reluctant to display in their homes into an important contemporary theme.

Arranged with his characteristic sense of balance and meticulously lit, this image of a calla lily appears to glow from within. Although preternaturally still, the composition exudes a sense of latent excitement, with the milky white flower almost vibrating against the rich, black background.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Calla Lily' Negative 1988; print 1990

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Calla Lily
Negative 1988; print 1990
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 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

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My whole point is to transcend the subject… go beyond the subject somehow, so that the composition, the lighting, all around, reaches a certain point of perfection.
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Robert Mapplethorpe

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Mapplethorpe’s work, whether in his fashion or fine art photography, is distinguished by a tension between opposites. At the base of this image of a calla lily, he punctuates the wide planes of black and white with what seems a decadent surprise: the three-dimensional, curving lip of the flower’s edge. He explores the effects of light as a painter might experiment with a palette of colors. At the top, the flower glows milky white, reminiscent of light seen through delicate alabaster or porcelain. Mapplethorpe’s spare compositions often showcase familiar subjects in unusual ways. Floral still lifes, for example, have long encouraged sexual interpretations, and especially here, given the artist’s other work with erotic and sadomasochistic subjects. His imagination transformed and energized what some had considered a stale genre.

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“Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946–1989) is one of the best-known and most controversial photographers of the second half of the 20th century. As a tastemaker and provocateur, his highly stylized explorations of gender, race, and sexuality became hallmarks of the period and exerted a powerful influence on his contemporaries. In recognition of the 2011 joint acquisition of Mapplethorpe’s art and archival materials with the Getty Research Institute and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Getty Museum presents In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe, on view October 23, 2012 – March 24, 2013 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center.

Containing 23 images that date from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, the Getty’s exhibition features key last of edition prints, rarely shown early unique mixed-media objects, and PolaroidsTM, as well as a wide range of subject matter including self-portraits, nudes and still lifes.
Before he took up the camera, Mapplethorpe often used pictures he cut out of magazines as collaged elements to explore sexuality and eroticism. In Leatherman #1 (1970), Mapplethorpe alters a fetishistic image and re- presents it in a shadow box, removing the picture from its original context and elevating it to a homoerotic icon. His early work also reflected the influence of his idol, Andy Warhol, and it is perhaps Warhol’s cover art for the band The Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album featuring a banana that inspired Banana & Keys (1973), a photograph-in-a-box construction. This object marks a transition in Mapplethorpe’s work between his collages and sculpture and his work as a photographer. Much of the tension is contained in the object’s success as a clever trompe l’oeil.

“The mixed-media objects and PolaroidTM snapshots in the exhibition demonstrate the struggle of a budding artist to find his proper medium of expression and develop his aesthetic vision,” said Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “However, the carefully crafted gelatin silver and platinum prints make evident Mapplethorpe’s mature style as well as his eye for prints of the highest quality and beauty.”

As Mapplethorpe committed his focus to photography, he began to explore the subjects to which he would return throughout his career – portraits, self-portraits, and nudes. Photographs that feature these subjects are among his best-known, and continue to influence artists today. One of his earliest celebrity portraits, Patti Smith (1975), was carefully staged by Mapplethorpe and Smith, his lifelong friend. Dressed in men’s clothes and channeling the American entertainer Frank Sinatra, Smith broke radically from the image that women in rock were expected to assume, and embodies the androgyny often found in Mapplethorpe’s photographs.

Mapplethorpe also evoked classical themes in his work, particularly in his nude figure studies. Using the motif of the three graces as depicted by artists from ancient Greece to the 19th century, Ken and Lydia and Tyler (1985) features one female and two male models of different racial backgrounds. Mapplethorpe chose a range of skin tones from light to dark in order to invite new, non-binary interpretations of gender, race and sexual orientation.

Concurrent to the Getty’s exhibition, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will present Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, from October 21, 2012 – March 24, 2013. The exhibition presents the 39 black and white photographs that make up the X, Y, and Z Portfolios created by Mapplethorpe and published in 1978, 1978, and 1981, respectively. Taken together, the portfolios summarize his ambitions as a fine-art photographer and contemporary artist.

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About Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Mapplethorpe was a major cultural figure during a period of tumultuous change who contributed to shaping not only the art of photography but the larger social landscape. His international fame derives from his prolific body of almost 2,000 editioned, large format black-and-white and color photographs, which have been featured in over 200 solo exhibitions around the world since 1977. Extensively exhibited and widely published, Mapplethorpe’s elegant prints representing portraits, nudes, flowers, and erotic and sadomasochistic subjects dominated photography in the late 20th century. Less known are the over 1,500 PolaroidTM works that Mapplethorpe produced in the early 1970s before he took up the Hasselblad 500 camera given to him in 1975 by Sam Wagstaff, the visionary curator who became Mapplethorpe’s benefactor and mentor.

Widely recognized for the role he played in elevating photography to the level of art, Robert Mapplethorpe always considered himself not only a photographer, but an artist. From 1963 to 1969, Mapplethorpe studied for a B.F.A. at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, where he majored in graphic arts and took courses in painting and sculpture – but never attended photography courses. In the late 1960s, he started clipping images from magazines to incorporate into collages. While living at the Chelsea Hotel with his friend and muse, Patti Smith, he borrowed a PolaroidTM camera in 1971 from fellow hotel resident Sandy Daley to create his own images for use in collages. Overshadowed by the power of his later large format photographs, Mapplethorpe’s early drawings, collages and assemblages, created between 1968 and 1972, remain largely unfamiliar, despite the importance they hold in understanding the artist’s formative years.

In the mid-1970s, using the Hasselblad 500, he began photographing participants in New York’s S&M subculture and created many of the strikingly powerful studies for which he is most renowned. He refined his style in the early 1980s and began concentrating on elegant figure studies and delicate floral still lifes, as well as glamorous celebrity portraits. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, his work emerged at the center of a culture war over the use of public money to support art that some deemed obscene or blasphemous. When some of Mapplethorpe’s more controversial works were exhibited at The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, director Dennis Barrie was arrested and charged with pandering (a charge of which he was ultimately acquitted after a landmark public trial).

Mapplethorpe died in 1989 at age 42 from complications of AIDS.”

Press release from The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Thomas' Negative 1987; print 1994

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
Negative 1987; print 1994
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Mapplethorpe’s strong, uncluttered compositions of statuesque male models fused a classical sensibility with homoerotic content at a time when the male nude was not a popular subject among camera artists. In this image, the model’s body is taut with compressed energy, his muscled limbs bent in a way that is reminiscent of those seen on ancient Greek figure vases.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ken and Lydia and Tyler Negative' 1985, print 2004

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken and Lydia and Tyler
Negative 1985, print 2004
Gelatin silver print
1
5 1/8 x 15 1/16 in.
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Nudes

Mapplethorpe often evoked classical themes in his work, particularly in his nude figure studies. In this image, he began with motif of the Three Graces as depicted by artists from the ancient Greeks to the nineteenth century, but took the reference in fresh directions. 

He selected one female and two male models of different racial backgrounds to achieve a range of skin tones from light to dark and to invite new, non-binary interpretations of gender, race, and sexual preference. Mapplethorpe trained his lens on the models’ conjoined bodies, purposely excluding their heads from the frame. Although he identified his models by name in the title, instead of a portrait, he created an elegant study of form and tone.

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Self Portraits

From 1970 until his untimely death in 1989, Mapplethorpe continually returned to the self-portrait as a means of expression. Despite his elaborate pompadour and face so attractive as to be almost pretty, the artist’s stare in this self-portrait is forceful and direct. Mapplethorpe’s sophisticated use of lighting gives the outlines of his mouth, nostrils, and earlobes a refined, even sculptural quality. The same elements of glamour and striking simplicity for which he is known in his celebrity and fashion portraiture are visible here, including a tightly cropped composition and uncluttered background that further dramatize the face. Mapplethorpe drew on his early commercial work for magazines, including Vogue. This aspect of his career followed the examples of other noted photographers such as Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Herb Ritts.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-Portrait' 1980

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self-Portrait
1980
Gelatin silver print
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

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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11
Nov
12

Exhibition: ‘The Body as Protest’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 5th September – 2nd December 2012

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“The past neglect of the body in social theory was a product of Western mind-body dualism that divided human experience into bodily and cognitive realms. The knowledge-body distinction identifies knowledge, culture, and reason with masculinity and identifies body, nature, and emotion with femininity. Viewing human reason as the principal source of progress and emancipation, it perceives “the rational” as separate from, and exalted over, the corporeal. In other words, consciousness was grasped as separate from and preceding the body (Bordo 1993; Davis 1997). Following feminist thinking about women’s bodies in patriarchal societies, contemporary social theories shifted focus from cognitive dimensions of identity construction to embodiment in the constitution of identities (Davis 1997). Social construction theories do not view the body as a biological given but as constituted in the intersection of discourse, social institutions, and the corporeality of the body. Body practices, therefore, reflect the basic values and themes of the society, and an analysis of the body can expose the intersubjective meaning common to society. At the same time, discourse and social institutions are produced and reproduced only through bodies and their techniques (Frank 1991, 91). Thus, social analysis has expanded from studying the body as an object of social control and discipline “in order to legitimate different regimes of domination” (Bordo 1993; Foucault 1975, 1978, 1980) to perceiving it as a subject that creates meaning and performs social action (Butler 1990). The body is understood as a means for self-expression, an important feature in a person’s identity project (Giddens 1991), and a site for social subversiveness and self-empowerment (Davis 1997).”

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Orna Sasson-Levy and Tamar Rapoport. “Body, Gender, and Knowledge in Protest Movements: The Israeli Case,” in Gender & Society 17, 2003, p.381. For the references in the quotation please see the end of the paper at attached link.

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Despite my great admiration for John Coplans photographs of his body, on the evidence of these press photographs and the attached video, this exhibition seems a beautiful if rather tame affair considering the subject matter. Of course these photographs of the body can be understood as a means for self-expression and self-empowerment but there seems little social subversiveness in the choice of work on display. The two Mapplethorpe’s are stylised instead of stonkingly subversive, and could have been taken from his ‘X’ portfolio (the self portrait of him with a bull whip up his arse would have been particularly pleasing to see in this context). The exhibition could have included some of the many artists using the body as protest during the AIDS crisis (perhaps my favourite David Wojnarowicz or William Yang’s Sadness), the famous Burning Monk – The Self-Immolation (1963) by Malcolm Browne, photographs by Stellarc, Arthur Tress, Duane Michals, Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Francesca Woodman, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman to name but a few; even the Farm Security Administration photographs of share cropper families by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange would have had more impact than some of the photographs on display here. Having not seen the entire exhibition it is hard to give an overall reading, but on the selection presented here it would seem that this was a missed opportunity, an exhibition where the body did not protest enough.

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Many thankx to the Albertina, Vienna 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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theartVIEw – The Body as Protest at ALBERTINA

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Ishiuchi Miyako
1906#38
Nd
Courtesy by The Third Gallery Aya

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Hannah Villiger
Block XXX
1993-1994
© The Estate of Hannah Villiger

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Ketty La Rocca
Le mie parole e tu
1974
Courtesy Private Collection, Austria

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John Coplans
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 6
1999
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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Bruce Nauman
Studies for Holograms
Siebdruck, 1970
© VBK, Wien 2012
Foto: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Vincent
1981
Silbergelatinepapier
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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“The exhibition The Body as Protest highlights the photographic representation of the human body – a motif that has provided a wide variety of photographers with an often radical means of expression for their visual protest against social, political, but also aesthetic norms.

The show centers on an outstanding group of works by the artist John Coplans from the holdings of the Albertina. In his serially conceived large-format pictures, the photographer focused on the rendering of his own nude body, which he defamiliarized through fragmentation far from current forms of idealization. Relying on extremely sophisticated lighting, he presented himself in a monumental and sculptural manner over many years. His photographs can be understood as amalgamations of theoretical and artistic ideas, which in the show are accentuated through selective juxtapositions with works by other important exponents of body-related art.

The body also features prominently in the work of other artists such as Hannah Wilke, Ketty La Rocca, Hannah Villiger, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Miyako Ishiuchi. By means of these positions, such diverse themes as self-dramatization, conceptual photography, feminism, body language, and even transience are analyzed within an expanded artistic range. Moreover, the exhibition offers a differentiated view of the critical depiction of the human body as it has been practiced since 1970.”

Text from the Albertina website

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Hannah Wilke
Gestures
1974-76
Basierend auf der gleichnamigen
Video Performance von 1974
(35:30 min, b&w, sound)
Silbergelatinepapier
12 Blatt je 12,7x 17,8 cm
© Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon and Andrew Scharlatt, The Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, L.A./ VBK, Wien 2012

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John Coplans
Frieze No. 6
1994
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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John Coplans
Self Portrait (Hands)
1988
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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Ketty La Rocca
Craniologia
1973
Radiografie mit überblendeter Fotografie
SAMMLUNG VERBUND

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1986
Silbergelatinepapier
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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John Coplans
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 17
2000
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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John Coplans
Back with Arms Above
1984
Silbergelatinepapier
© The John Coplans Trust

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Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am to 6 pm
Wednesday 10 am to 9 pm

Albertina 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

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Vision (Orpheus Scene)' 1907

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Vision (Orpheus Scene)
1907
Platinum print
24.4 x 18.4 cm (9 5/8 x 7 1/4 in.)

 

 

“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

 

 

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.

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Two nude men standing in a forest' Taormina, Sicily, 1899

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931)
Two nude men standing in a forest
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print

 

 

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 [see 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

 

  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), p. 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p. 208

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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.

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
1948
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Self Portrait
1975
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Derrick Cross
1983
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Thomas
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Two Tulips
1984
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

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

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Untitled
c. 1973
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Lisa Lyon
1982
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Ajitto
1981
Gelatin silver print
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

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

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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.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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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: ‘Padlocks/People’ 1994-96

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