Self Portrait, 1980
November 4, 1946|
Floral Park, New York
|Died||March 9, 1989
Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, known for his large-scale, highly stylized black and white portraits, photos of flowers and nude men. The frank homoeroticism of some of the work of his middle period triggered a more general controversy about the public funding of artworks.
Mapplethorpe was born and grew up as a Roman Catholic of English and Irish heritage in Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Floral Park, Queens, New York. His parents were Harry and Joan Mapplethorpe and he grew up with five brothers and sisters. He studied for a B.F.A. from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he majored in graphic arts, though he dropped out in 1969 before finishing his degree. Mapplethorpe lived with his partner Patti Smith from 1967 to 1974, and she supported him by working in bookstores. They created art together, and even after he realized he was homosexual, they maintained a close relationship.
Mapplethorpe took his first photographs soon thereafter using a Polaroid camera. In the mid-1970s, he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including artists, composers, and socialites. By the 1980s his subject matter focused on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and highly formal portraits of artists and celebrities. Mapplethorpe's first studio was at 24 Bond Street in Manhattan. In the 1980s, his mentor and lifetime companion art curator Sam Wagstaff gave him $500,000 to buy the top-floor loft at 35 West 23rd Street, where he lived and had his shooting space. He kept the Bond Street loft as his darkroom.
Mapplethorpe died on the morning of March 9, 1989, 42 years old, in a Boston, Massachusetts, hospital from complications arising from AIDS. His body was cremated and the ashes buried in Queens, New York, in his mother's grave, marked "Maxey".
Nearly a year before his death, the ailing Mapplethorpe helped found the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc. His vision for the Foundation was that it would be "the appropriate vehicle to protect his work, to advance his creative vision, and to promote the causes he cared about". Since his death, the Foundation has not only functioned as his official estate and helped promote his work throughout the world, it has also raised and donated millions of dollars to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV infection.
Mapplethorpe worked primarily in the studio, particularly toward the end of his career. Common subjects include flowers, especially orchids and calla lilies, and celebrities, including Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Deborah Harry, Richard Gere, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading and Patti Smith. Smith was a longtime roommate of Mapplethorpe and a frequent subject in his photography, including a stark, iconic photograph that appears on the cover of Smith's first album, Horses. Also, a Patti Smith portrait from 1986 recalls Albrecht Dürer's 1500 self-portrait.
Other work includes homoerotic and BDSM acts (including coprophagia), and classical nudes. Mapplethorpe's X Portfolio series sparked national attention in the early 1990s when it was included in The Perfect Moment, a traveling exhibition funded by National Endowment for the Arts. The portfolio includes some of Mapplethorpe's most explicit imagery, including a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted in his anus. Though his work had been regularly displayed in publicly funded exhibitions, conservative and religious organizations, such as the American Family Association, seized on this exhibition to vocally oppose government support for what they called "nothing more than the sensational presentation of potentially obscene material." As a result, Mapplethorpe became something of a cause célèbre for both sides of the American culture war. The installation of The Perfect Moment in Cincinnati resulted in the unsuccessful prosecution of the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati and its director, Dennis Barrie, on charges of "pandering obscenity".
His sexually charged photographs of black men have been criticized as exploitative. Such criticism was the subject of a work by American conceptual artist Glenn Ligon, Notes on the Margins of the Black Book (1991–1993). Ligon juxtaposes Mapplethorpe's 91 images of black men in the 1988 publication Black Book with critical texts to complicate the racial undertones of the imagery.
The Perfect Moment (1989 solo exhibit tour)
In the summer of 1989, Mapplethorpe's traveling solo exhibit brought national attention to the issues of public funding for the arts, who defines what is obscene, and what censorship should be acceptable. The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., had agreed to be one of the host museums for the tour. Mapplethorpe decided to show his latest series that he explored shortly before his death. Titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, it was curated by Janet Kardon of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). The hierarchy of the Corcoran and several members of the U.S. Congress were upset when the works were revealed to them, due to some of the content being homoerotic and sadomasochistically themed. The museum refused the exhibit's stop during the national tour.
In June 1989, pop artist Lowell Blair Nesbitt became involved in the censorship issue. Nesbitt, a long-time friend of Mapplethorpe, revealed that he had a $1.5-million bequest to the museum in his will, but publicly promised that if the museum refused to host the exhibition, he would revoke the bequest. The Corcoran refused and Nesbitt bequeathed the money to the Phillips Collection instead. After the Corcoran refused the Mapplethorpe exhibition, the underwriters of the exhibition went to the nonprofit Washington Project for the Arts, which showed all the images in its space from July 21 to August 13, 1989, to large crowds. In 1990, the Contemporary Arts Center, and Dennis Barrie, were charged with obscenity. They were found not guilty by a jury.
According to the ICA, "The Corcoran's decision sparked a controversial national debate: Should tax dollars support the arts? Who decides what is "obscene" or "offensive" in public exhibitions? And if art can be considered a form of free speech, is it a violation of the First Amendment to revoke federal funding on grounds of obscenity? To this day, these questions remain very much at issue." However, prices for many of the Mapplethorpe photographs doubled and even tripled as a consequence of all the attention. The artist's notoriety supposedly also helped the sale at Christie's auction house of Mapplethorpe's own collection of furniture, pottery, silver and works by other artists, which brought about $8 million.
In 1998, the University of Central England was involved in a controversy when a book by Mapplethorpe was confiscated. A final-year undergraduate student was writing a paper on the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and intended to illustrate the paper with a few photographs from Mapplethorpe, a book of the photographer's work. She took the photographs to the local chemist to be developed and the chemist informed West Midlands Police because of the unusual nature of the images. The police confiscated the library book from the student and informed the university that the book would have to be destroyed. If the university agreed to the destruction, no further action would be taken.
The university Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Peter Knight, supported by the Senate, took the view that the book was a legitimate book for the university library to hold and that the action of the police was a serious infringement of academic freedom. The Vice-Chancellor was interviewed by the police, under caution, with a view to prosecution under the terms of the Obscene Publications Acts.
After the interview with the Vice-Chancellor, a file was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service for a determination by the Director of Public Prosecutions whether to proceed with a trial. After a delay of about six months, the affair came to an end when Dr. Knight was informed by the DPP that no action would be taken.
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In September 1999, Arena Editions published Pictures, a monograph that reintroduced Mapplethorpe's sex pictures. In 2000, Pictures was seized by two South Australian plain-clothes detectives from an Adelaide bookshop in the belief that the book breached indecency and obscenity laws. Police sent the book to the Canberra-based Office of Film and Literature Classification after the state Attorney-General's Department deftly decided not to get involved in the mounting publicity storm. Eventually, the OFLC board agreed unanimously that the book, imported from the United States, should remain freely available and unclassified.
In 2006, a 1987 Mapplethorpe print of Andy Warhol (a platinum print on linen with four silk panels) was auctioned for around $US 643,000, making it the most expensive Mapplethorpe photograph ever sold.
In May 2007, American writer, director, and producer James Crump directed the documentary film Black White + Gray, which premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. It explores the influence Mapplethorpe, curator Sam Wagstaff, and musician/poet Patti Smith had on the 1970s art scene in New York City.
In September 2007, Prestel published Mapplethorpe: Polaroids, a collection of 183 of approximately 1,500 existing Mapplethorpe polaroids. This book accompanies an exhibition by the Whitney Museum of American Art in May 2008.
- Mapplethorpe, Robert. Robert Mapplethorpe: 1970-1983. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1983. ISBN 0-905263-31-6
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, and Bruce Chatwin. Lady, Lisa Lyon. New York: Viking Press, 1983. ISBN 0-670-43012-9
- Mapplethorpe, Robert. Certain people: a book of portraits. Pasadena, CA: Twelvetrees Press, 1985. ISBN 0-942642-14-7
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, and Ntozake Shange. Black book. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. ISBN 0-312-08302-5
- Marshall, Richard, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 50 New York artists: a critical selection of painters and sculptors working in New York. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1986. ISBN 0-87701-403-5
- Mapplethorpe, Robert. Robert Mapplethorpe. Tokyo: Parco, 1987. ISBN 4-89194-149-9
- Mapplethorpe, Robert. Mapplethorpe portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery, 1988. ISBN 0-904017-91-5
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, and Joan Didion. Some women. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8212-1716-X
- Kardon, Janet, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Joselit, and Kay Larson. Robert Mapplethorpe: the perfect moment. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 1989. ISBN 0-88454-046-4
- Mapplethorpe, Robert. Flowers. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8212-1781-X
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, and Arthur Coleman Danto. Mapplethorpe. New York: Random House, 1992. ISBN 0-679-40804-5
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, and Edmund White. Altars. New York: Random House, 1995. ISBN 0-679-42721-X
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, John Ashbery, Mark Holborn, and Dimitri Levas. Pistils. New York: Random House, 1996. ISBN 0-679-40805-3
- Rimbaud, Arthur, Paul Schmidt, and Robert Mapplethorpe. A season in hell. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997. ISBN 0-8212-2458-1
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, and Dimitri Levas. Pictures. Arena Editions, 1999. ISBN 1-892041-16-2
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, and Richard Marshall. Autoportrait. Santa Fe, NM: Arena Editions in association with Cheim and Reid, 2001. ISBN 1-892041-41-3
- Mapplethorpe, Robert, Germano Celant, Arkadii Ippolitov, Karole P B Vail, and Jennifer Blessing. Robert Mapplethorpe and the classical tradition: photographs and Mannerist prints. Berlin: Deutsche Guggenheim, 2004. ISBN 0-89207-313-6
- Wolf, Sylvia, and Robert Mapplethorpe. Polaroids: Mapplethorpe. Munich and New York: Prestel, 2007. ISBN 978-3-7913-3835-4
- 2010: Les Rencontres d'Arles festival, France.
- 2012: Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest.
- Glueck, Grace. "Fallen Angel", The New York Times, June 25, 1995. Accessed October 14, 2007. "Growing up in a blue-collar precinct of Floral Park and steeped in Catholicism, Mapplethorpe developed — to his alarm — an adolescent interest in gay pornographic magazines ... So, at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where his father had studied engineering and Robert majored in graphic arts (but stopped short of getting a degree) ..."
- Haggerty, George. "Gay histories and cultures"
- http://www.mapplethorpe.org/foundation.html Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation website
- Thorgerson, Storm; Aubrey Powell (November 1999). 100 Best Album Covers: The Stories Behind the Sleeves (1st American edition ed.). Dorling Kindersley. p. 74. ISBN 0-7894-4951-X.
- Self-Portrait (From The X Portfolio)
- Untitled (Self Portrait)
- Robert Mapplethorpe's extraordinary vision
- "Mapplethorpe's Photos Now an F.C.C. Issue". The New York Times. August 17, 1990.
- Imaging Sadomasochism: Robert Mapplethorpe and the Masquerade of Photography
- Mapplethorpe, Robert (1946-1989)
- Imperfect Moments: Mapplethorpe and Censorship Twenty Years Later, Institute of Contemporary Art
- The Sensitive Society, James F. Fitzpatrick, FCLJ Vol 47 No 2
- Corcoran Cut From Painter's Will;Lowell Nesbitt's Mapplethorpe Protest
- The federal government and the states have long been permitted to limit obscenity or pornography. However, the exact definition of obscenity and pornography has changed over time. (See also I know it when I see it.)
- Grace Glueck (April 16, 1990), Publicity Is Enriching Mapplethorpe Estate New York Times.
- UCE pages on the Mapplethorpe controversy
- Robert Mapplethorpe on the Christie's website
- Carson, Tom (2010-01-29), "The Night Belongs to Us", New York Times, retrieved 2010-02-10
- Marshall, Richard, Richard Howard, and Ingrid Sischy. Robert Mapplethorpe. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with New York Graphic Society Books, 1988. ISBN 0-87427-060-X
- Veith, Gene Edward. State of the arts: from Bezalel to Mapplethorpe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991. ISBN 0-89107-608-5
- Ellenzweig, Allen. The homoerotic photograph: male images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-231-07536-7
- Fritscher, Jack. Mapplethorpe: assault with a deadly camera: a pop culture memoir, an outlaw reminiscence. Mamaroneck, NY: Hastings House, 1994. ISBN 0-8038-9362-0
- Jarzombek, Mark. "The Mapplethorpe trial and the paradox of its formalist and liberal defense: sights of contention." AppendX 2:58–81, Spring 1994.
- Morrisroe, Patricia. Robert Mapplethorpe: a biography. New York: Random House, 1995. ISBN 0-394-57650-0
- Danto, Arthur C. Playing with the edge: the photographic achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 0-520-20051-9
- Banham, Gary. "Mapplethorpe, Duchamp and the ends of photography". Angelaki 7(1):119-128, 2002.
- Smith, Patti. Just Kids. New York: Ecco, 2010. ISBN 978-0-06-621131-2
- Curley, Mallory. A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia. Randy Press, 2010.
- The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation website
- Robert Mapplethorpe at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
- Robert Mapplethorpe at Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris
- Exhibitions with Robert Mapplethorpe
- Biography from the Guggenheim Museum
- Robert Mapplethorpe at the Internet Movie Database
- Robert Mapplethorpe at Findagrave.com
- Robert Mapplethorpe: A Season in Hell / Opening and Performance by Patti Smith Video at VernissageTV, Alison Jacques Gallery, London / UK. October 13, 2009.
- Smith, Patti (1997-10-17) (Video). A conversation with singer Patti Smith. (Interview). Charlie Rose. WNET. New York. http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/5297. Retrieved 2011-01-12.
- Patti Smith's first encounters with Robert Mapplethorpe
- Robert Mapplethorpe papers and photographs, 1850-2011, bulk 1970-1989. Getty Research Institute, Research Library. Los Angeles, California. The collection spans Robert Mapplethorpe's career from his early drawings, collages and jewelry to his photographic work through the 1980s.