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Robert Mapplethorpe – The search for perfection

Posted in Things We Love

Self-portrait 1975
Self-portrait 1975

Los Angeles is currently enveloped in Mapplethorpe mania. Two companion exhibitions are on view at the Getty Center and at LACMA, and a new documentary titled “Look at the Pictures” just opened on HBO. Twenty seven years after his death, it seems it was time to rediscover the work of an ambitious and provocative photographer who started taking pictures by accident.

Not that his photos ever went away. While I was wandering around the Getty galleries (the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation has bequeathed the entire catalogue to the Getty Research Institute) I was struck by how familiar so many of the images are, how they have entered the American visual lexicon.

The best portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe you can hope to read is the memoir Patti Smith wrote of their shared beginnings, Just Kids, before either of them became famous, before the controversy generated by the most graphic and sexual of his images. How times have changed – skipping and hopping in the galleries, among photographs of flowers, portraits, nudes and sexual acts, were many children and their unconcerned parents. Mercifully gone are the days of Senator Jesse Helms pointing at Mapplethorpe’s work and screaming “Just look at the pictures!” in outrage (although the steps recently taken by Mississippi and North Carolina in legally discriminating against the LGBT community are a sign there is still some way to go).

Patti Smith
Patti Smith

What transpires the most from the collection the curators chose to put on the museum walls, is the passion and dedication and search for perfection in the human body that consumed Mapplethorpe throughout his career. More than the portraits and the still lives, the nudes are what I found most affecting.

Lydia Cheng - 1985
Lydia Cheng – 1985

Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.” Patti Smith

 

Thomas 1987
Thomas 1987

“I am obsessed with beauty. I want everything to be perfect, and of course it isn’t. And that’s a tough place to be because you’re never satisfied.”

 

Tulip 1985
Tulip 1985

I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth.” Patti Smith

Self-portrait 1985
Self-portrait 1985

I’m not after beauty, I’m after perfection, and they’re not always the same.” 

All images copyright of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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8 Comments

  1. Always loved Mapplethorpe’s work and remember how scandalous it was deemed in the late 80’s but comforted by the fact he is considered a true photographic genius.

    April 8, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Some of the more graphic work could still be found scandalous in mainstream photography today, I guess. It’s the first time I saw a retrospective of all his work and it all looks still very contemporary.

      April 8, 2016
      |Reply
  2. As with Nadia I hadn’t heard of Mapplethorpe before. The photographs you’ve selected to show are stunning.

    April 8, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I picked the PG 14!

      April 8, 2016
      |Reply
  3. Last year when we were staying at a Ritz Carlton in Germany, I was surprised to find a ‘coffee table book’ with an overview of M’s most famous photos in the cocktail lounge. This book seemed a bit out of place in these rather formal surroundings and we were wondering what the other (conservative seeming) guests would think of the pictures. Our favorite was “man in polyester suit”, mostly because the polyester suit isn’t the most prominent aspect of the photo 😉
    M is not very well known in the Netherlands at all, perhaps because his works aren’t as controversial here.

    April 8, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Man in polyester suit was part of the retrospective. I have to say, as beautiful as they are, I wasn’t crazy about the still lives. I like the portraits but his work on body and sex is definitely what he was passionate about. You can tell.

      April 8, 2016
      |Reply
  4. Beautiful photography. I did not know of his works.

    April 8, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Another South African mentioned here she wasn’t familiar with his work and Stefan, in Holland, also says he is not well-known here. Clearly an American phenomenon.

      April 8, 2016
      |Reply

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