Robert Mapplethorpe

American Photographer | Born: 1946 - Died: 1989
Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946 in Floral Park, Queens. Of his childhood he said, "I come from suburban America. It was a very safe environment and it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave."

In 1963, Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute in nearby Brooklyn, where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture. Influenced by artists such as Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp, he also experimented with various materials in mixed-media collages, including images cut from books and magazines. He acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970 and began producing his own photographs to incorporate into the collages, saying he felt "it was more honest." That same year he and Patti Smith, whom he had met three years earlier, moved into the Chelsea Hotel.

Mapplethorpe quickly found satisfaction taking Polaroid photographs in their own right and indeed few Polaroids actually appear in his mixed-media works. In 1973, the Light Gallery in New York City mounted his first solo gallery exhibition, "Polaroids." Two years later he acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances—artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, and members of the S & M underground. He also worked on commercial projects, creating album cover art for Patti Smith and Television and a series of portraits and party pictures for Interview Magazine.

In the late 70s, Mapplethorpe grew increasingly interested in documenting the New York S & M scene. The resulting photographs are shocking for their content and remarkable for their technical and formal mastery. Mapplethorpe told ARTnews in late 1988, "I don't like that particular word 'shocking.' I'm looking for the unexpected. I'm looking for things I've never seen before … I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them." Meanwhile his career continued to flourish. In 1977, he participated in Documenta 6 in Kassel, West Germany and in 1978, the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City became his exclusive dealer.

Mapplethorpe met Lisa Lyon, the first World Women's Bodybuilding Champion, in 1980. Over the next several years they collaborated on a series of portraits and figure studies, a film, and the book, Lady, Lisa Lyon. Throughout the 80s, Mapplethorpe produced a bevy of images that simultaneously challenge and adhere to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities, to name a few of his preferred genres. He introduced and refined different techniques and formats, including color 20" x 24" Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color prints. In 1986, he designed sets for Lucinda Childs' dance performance, Portraits in Reflection, created a photogravure series for Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, and was commissioned by curator Richard Marshall to take portraits of New York artists for the series and book, 50 New York Artists.

That same year, in 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989.

His vast, provocative, and powerful body of work has established him as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Today Mapplethorpe is represented by galleries in North and South America and Europe and his work can be found in the collections of major museums around the world. Beyond the art historical and social significance of his work, his legacy lives on through the work of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. He established the Foundation in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art, and to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection.
The Photographs
Author: Robert Mapplethorpe
Publisher: J. Paul Getty Museum
Year: 2016 - Pages: 340
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs offers a timely and rewarding examination of his oeuvre and influence. Drawing from the extraordinary collection jointly acquired in 2011 by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, as well as the Mapplethorpe Archive housed at the Getty Research Institute, the authors were given the unique opportunity to explore new resources and present fresh perspectives. The result is a fascinating introduction to Mapplethorpe’s career and legacy, accompanied by a rich selection of illustrations covering the remarkable range of his photographic work. All of these beautifully integrated elements contribute to what promises to become an essential point of access to Mapplethorpe’s work and practice.
 
Mapplethorpe: Perfection in Form
Author: Robert Mapplethorpe
Publisher: TeNeues
Year: 2009 - Pages: 227
Today, Robert Mapplethorpe is recognized as firmly an artist of his time, whose work was richly steeped in the classical tradition. Even his most transgressive work borrowed heavily from the conventions of such masters as Michelangelo. Although separated by the centuries, each artist helped shape how we view the world. This book explores the connection from both academic and aesthetic perspectives. Serving as exhibition catalogue for a May 2009 show at Florence’s Accademia, this volume shows how these two artists used the body to illustrate the human experience and contains valuable commentary by curators, as well as analysis from art and photography historians
 
Mapplethorpe
Author: Robert Mapplethorpe
Publisher: TeNeues
Year: 2007 - Pages: 382
This major, long out-of-print survey, widely regarded as the definitive overview of Mapplethorpe's black-and-white photography, is once again available in a new, updated edition. It presents a comprehensive selection of Mapplethorpe's nudes, portraits, self-portraits, floral still lifes and other works, including his best known and most controversial images. Mapplethorpe's choices were both innovative and bold, and his work has continued to resonate since his early death in 1989. His cutting-edge use of homoerotic and other challenging themes has become embedded in our culture, with pervasive echoes not only in the work of other artists but in mainstream advertising as well.
 
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Complete Flowers
Author: Robert Mapplethorpe, Herbert Muschamp
Publisher: TeNeues
Year: 2006 - Pages: 256
The theme of flowers is woven throughout Robert Mapplethorpe's oeuvre, coming to signify some of his deepest concerns as an artist. The photographs in "Flowers" range from images of the early 1980s to many taken in the months just before his death. The latter, in particular, are astounding in their intensity; here one finds both erotic drama and absolute clarity of composition - Mapplethorpe's gift at its most bold and uncompromising. Only a fraction of Robert Mapplethorpe's color flowers have been published or exhibited. This book, exquisitely designed and produced, is destined to become a crucial part of his legacy.
 
David Bailey: SUMO
 
 

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