fbpx

Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait, 1985, Gelatin silver print, Image: 38.7 x 38.6 cm (15 1/4 x 15 3/16 in.) Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation, 2011.7.21 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Thomas

Thomas, 1987, Gelatin silver print, Image: 48.8 x 48.8 cm (19 3/16 x 19 3/16 in.) Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation, 2011.7.31 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

In the late ‘70s, Robert Mapplethorpe’s sex pictures exploded onto the New York art scene. Sexually explicit, provocative and audacious – his photographs had the power to shock, seduce, and appal in equal doses. He was adorning the walls of respectable NY art galleries with content most hadn’t seen before – pornographic images styled with a classical guise. His sex pictures depicted re-enactments of sadomasochist sex acts with male models he had met in underground gay clubs, such as Mineshaft, Manhattan. Although his graphic portrayals of the male genitalia raised more than a few eyebrows, the public reaction was thrilling to Mapplethorpe, and he delighted in the responses and attention that his images received. Mapplethorpe’s self-portrait with a bullwhip in his anus (1978) is proof of his bold determination in the face of all protest, and underlined the fact that his work was often intentionally provocative.

Mapplethorpe was constantly striving to push boundaries, vying to expose marginalized groups of the population – groups that he himself was actively a part of. And through photography, he aimed to expose these outcast portions of society in the best possible light. Until the advent of gay liberation, images like his were kept strictly tucked away in the realms of the forbidden. Mapplethorpe, however, was a catalytic force in blurring the boundaries between pornography and fine art, the classical and the (homo-) erotic, and in turn helped to legitimize pornographic images in a fine art context with his infamous X Portfolio.

It may come as a surprise to some that Mapplethorpe’s work didn’t only center on sex and people. In fact, some of his most memorable images are of flowers. The formal, elegant style that became Mapplethorpe’s trademark was consistent when photographing any of his subjects, whether it was ‘flowers or cocks’, as the artist often said.

Among his most iconic works are the images he took of professional bodybuilder Lisa Lyon in the late ‘70s – she was still quite a novelty during the time and this project also went to counter the common misconception that Mapplethorpe only photographed men; the African-American men styled as objects of desire – more sculpture-like than human; and also the intimate portraits of renowned figures of the New York art world – including poet and musician Patti Smith, one of Mapplethorpe’s muses and lovers.

Simultaneous to this work, Mapplethorpe was shooting self-portraits and even when he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, he continued to pick up the camera and shoot. In March 1989 Mapplethorpe died from AIDS-related complications at the young age of 42, yet in his short lifetime he had established himself as one of the most important artists of the late 20th century.

Marking almost three decades since his death, a new book due to be released this March, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs (J. Paul Getty Museum) is offering a timely and rewarding examination of Mapplethorpe’s legacy and influence, drawn from the extraordinary collection jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the LA County Museum of Art from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, as well as the Mapplethorpe Archive housed at the Getty Research Institute. Contained within the book’s pages is an in-depth background to Mapplethorpe’s career and five essays on sexuality and identity, as well as a showcase of some of his expansive work. The book coincides with a two-venue retrospective – Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium – where alongside some of Mapplethorpe’s most famous images, are those that have been seldom published or exhibited.

Two companion publications entitled The Wagstaff Collection and Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archives will also accompany the shows at Getty and LACMA. The latter contains essays by Patti Smith and Jonathan Weinberg.

THE SHOWS:

ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE: THE PERFECT MEDIUM
March 15 – July 31, 2016: THE J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM, GETTY CENTER
March 20 – July 31, 2016: THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART (LACMA)

Ken and Lydia and Tyler

Ken and Lydia and Tyler, 1985, Gelatin silver print, Image: 38.4 x 38.2 cm (15 1/8 x 15 1/16 in.) Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation, 2011.7.19 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

gm_33208701_2000x2000

Lisa Lyon, 1981, Gelatin silver print, Image: 45.1 x 35 cm (17 3/4 x 13 3/4 in.), Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L.2012.88.482 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Melody (Shoe)

Melody (Shoe), 1987, Gelatin silver print, Image: 48.9 x 49.2 cm (19 1/4 x 19 3/8 in.) Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.52.22 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

gm_33267701_2000x2000

Andy Warhol, 1983, Gelatin silver print, Image: 39.1 x 38.5 cm (15 3/8 x 15 3/16 in.) Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L.2012.89.156 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Tulips

Tulips, 1988, Gelatin silver print, Image: 49.1 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.) Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.52.27 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Orchid

Orchid, 1987, Gelatin silver print, Image: 49.1 x 49.2 cm (19 5/16 x 19 3/8 in.) Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.52.23 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

gm_33309501_2000x2000

Flower Arrangement, 1986, Gelatin silver print, Image: 49 x 49 cm (19 5/16 x 19 5/16 in.) Promised Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L.2012.89.566 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Ken Moody

Ken Moody, 1983, Gelatin silver print, Image: 38.5 x 38.7 cm (15 3/16 x 15 1/4 in.) Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation, 2011.7.16 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Ajitto; Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946 - 1989); New York, New York, United States; 1981; Gelatin silver print; 45.4 x 35.5 cm (17 7/8 x 14 in.); 2011.7.13

Ajitto, 1981, Gelatin silver print, Image: 45.4 x 35.5 cm (17 7/8 x 14 in.) Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation, 2011.7.13 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Self-Portrait

Self-Portrait, 1980, Gelatin silver print, Image: 35.6 x 35.6 cm (14 x 14 in.) Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation, 2011.9.21 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

All images © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Discover More

Give a Print
Receive a Print
Receive a print

Stay updated with our weekly newsletter!

Expert advice from photo industry professionals every Friday + get our guide to mastering Instagram (for FREE)!

Thanks for signing up to the Feature Shoot newsletter!