Robert Mapplethorpe

Artistic Genius or Brilliant Self-Publicist?

He isn't everyone's cup of tea and some of his images have to be described as 'strong'. No matter what we might think of his work, it is definitely controversial.

Born on the 4th November, 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe grew up in Queens, New York City. He studied for a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, majoring in Graphic Arts. Mapplethorpe lived with his close friend Patti Smith between 1967 and 1972. Smith undertook a variety of work (including working in book shops) to help support Mapplethorpe in his early career. Mapplethorpe's earliest photographs were taken using Polaroid cameras but he progressed to medium-format when he obtained a Hasselblad camera in the mid 1970s. It was around this time that he became friendly with the artist George Dureau and Mapplethorpe was so influenced by him that he re-staged many of Dureau's early photographs.

Mapplethorpe developed his own style and began to focus on male and female nudes, flower still-lives and portraits of artists and celebrities. Mapplethorpe is probably most usually associated with the New York BDSM scene during the 1960s and 1970s. The majority of Mapplethorpe's work is in black and white and much of his work is erotic - even (by his own admission) pornographic. Many of his models are statuesque in their beauty and the male models were often body builders with very fine physiques. In the words of Patti Smith' "Robert sought to elevate aspects of male experience, to imbue homosexuality with mysticism."

There has been significant controversy about Mapplethorpe's work - particularly in relation to the public funding of the arts. the most famous controversy occurred in 1989 when The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC agreed to host Mapplethorpe's solo exhibit tour. Several senior people at The Corcoran, together with a number of US Congress members, were upset by the homoerotic and sadomasochistic content of the work. Pop artist Lowell Blair Nesbitt became involved in this censorship argument and revoked a $1.5million bequest to the museum when the museum refused to host the exhibition. Following this refusal, the exhibition organisers went instead to the non-profit Washington Project for the Arts. Unsurprisingly, the exhibition drew large crowds. A number of obscenity charges have been brought at various times when Mapplethorpe's work has been exhibited - usually with not-guilty verdicts. The controversy around Mapplethorpe's work has, at times, featured on both sides of the Atlantic with the University of Central England also involved in legal action in 1989 when it was threatened with prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act.

The dying Mapplethorpe established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation which administers his estate and promotes his work around the world. The Foundation also raises and donates millions of dollars to fund research in the fight against AIDS and HIV. Mapplethorpe was only 42 when he died in 1989. Undoubtedly the debate about the nature of his work will continue.

We currently have three Mapplethorpe books in stock: - 'Mapplethorpe', 'Pistils' and 'Some Women'. Feel free to browse and do ask if you would like to see more photographs. 



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