Pioneering aesthetic

This Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition retrospectively tracks the photographer’s iconoclastic career
By Robert Greer | Art | 18 March 2016

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

As a photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe was a hugely divisive figure on the 1980s New York art scene, breaking boundaries in both subject matter and technique, as he presented an unflinching look into the sexual underground of the era.

From March 20th, the LACMA will be running an extensive retrospective of his work to help place Mapplethorpe in the context of other artists of the era. Although often shocking, his work evoked classical form, and often transcended its subject matter to provide surreal glimpses into the human condition.

Robert Mapplethorpe Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter, 1979 Gelatin silver print 35.6 X 35.5 cm (14 X 14 in.) © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Within the ultra conservative American society of the 1980s, Mapplethorpe shone a light on the hidden and taboo, through perfectly rendered black and white photographers that dealt with lone subjects in scenes of overt nudity and often evoked BDSM imagery.

As Mapplethorpe was quick to point out however, he was not looking to shock, rather to ‘look for the unexpected’. As such, his work also carries a bizarre tenderness, the bodies like classical sculptures in his photos often seeming mildly embarrassed, alone, and all too mortal.

His fame was heightened by his tragic death from Aids related illnesses in 1989, which helped further bring the sexual underground into a national discussion.

This extensive exhibition will look at his famous portraits, as well as his lesser known parallel photos of flowers, early sketches, and other media. It will run until July 31st, and is not to be missed if you find yourself anywhere near the West coast.



“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.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe Two Men Dancing, 1984 Gelatin silver print 48.5 x 38.6 cm (19 1/8 X 15 3/16 in.) © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium runs March 20 – July 31 at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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