With his photography and personality – intense and insistent – Mapplethorpe breaks down the boundaries between life and art. His passionate desire to achieve aesthetic perfection forms the core of his work. The exhibition focuses on what Mapplethorpe called ‘perfection in form’, which can be seen in his fascination with sexual fetishism and in his almost tangible floral petals.
Iconic images and masterly compositions
‘Robert Mapplethorpe, a perfectionist’ shows Mapplethorpe’s personal bond with his models, his talent for running a successful studio, and above all, his ambition to elevate photography to the status of fine art. The iconic images and masterly compositions that made him famous are set in a wider context. The exhibition, including the famed X, Y and Z Portfolios, provides insight into his working method, showing the trajectory from his improvisational beginnings to the highly controlled studio practice he developed while seeking aesthetic perfection.
The retrospective follows Mapplethorpe’s development over time and presents the major themes of his work. On display are portraits of friends and acquaintances – including his girlfriend and muse Patti Smith, the body builder Lisa Lyon and model Phillip Prioleau, as well as prominent artists, writers and musicians. But there are also many self-portraits, which demonstrate that Mapplethorpe understood the importance of crafting his own image.
Sexuality is at the centre of a large part of Mapplethorpe’s work. In the late 1960s he used images from gay pornographic magazines for his collages. When he began to take his own photographs in the early 1970s, he had already discovered the SM subculture of New York. Mapplethorpe is unrivalled in recording the naked body sculpturally in photography. The combination of in-your-face sexual images and impressive technical mastery attracted very broad attention and launched Mapplethorpe’s national and international career. His refined, sculptural and technically perfect floral still lifes also display Mapplethorpe’s predilection for sensitively illuminated and balanced compositions.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, ‘Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs’, co-published by the J. Paul Getty Museum and LACMA. A comprehensive guide to the artist's work and career, this publication features an introduction by co-curators Britt Salvesen and Paul Martineau, five scholarly essays, an illustrated chronology, and a selected exhibition history and bibliography.
Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
The Cultuurfonds was founded in London in 1940 by Prince Bernhard, late grandfather Willem Alexander, the present king, to buy war material for the British and Dutch Governments.