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 naked men. The frank, homosexual eroticism of some of the work of his middle period triggered a more general controversy about the public funding of artworks.
Mapplethorpe worked primarily in the studio, particularly towards the end of his career. Common subjects include flowers, especially orchids and calla lilies; celebrities, including Andy Warhol, Deborah Harry, Richard Gere, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, and Patti Smith (a Patti Smith portrait from 1986 recalls Albrecht Dürer’s 1500 self-portrait); 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 celebre 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 several of Mapplethorpe’s most iconic images of black men appropriated from the 1988 publication, Black Book, with various critical texts to complicate the racial undertones of the imagery.
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.
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman, 1984:
Patti Smith :
More works by the artist you can find here