(MONTREAL, QC) – Robert Mapplethorpe (1964-1989) is perhaps one of America’s most iconic photographers. The first Mapplethorpe retrospective opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on September 10 and runs until January 22, 2017.
You’ll walk away either somewhat disgusted with some of his kinkier nude or seminude photographs, or view them as an innovative photographic attempt at sculpture. Or, you may be in awe at some of his incredible photographs of flowers.
As Mapplethorpe said, “I am looking for perfection in form. I do that with portraits. I do it with flowers.”
Unlike the equally iconic American photographer Diane Arbus, Mapplethorpe preferred the studio portrait instead of the outdoor realistic method, favoured by Arbus. Does this make Mapplethorpe a traditionalist despite the progressive and innovative crown bestowed by the artistic community?
There are 250 works in the Focus Perfection exhibit, the majority of which are black and white photographs of friends, nudes, and flowers, with some album covers and jewellery thrown in.
Mapplethorpe started off growing up in a middle class Queens, NY. In 1967, he entered the Pratt Institute for graphic design and even joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was then snagged by the growing subculture movement, becoming good friends with rocker Patti Smith the same year.
He started photography in earnest with a Polaroid in 1970.
With mentor, and lover, Samuel J Wagstaff Jr, the former director of the Detroit Institute of Art, Mapplethorpe was set up with high quality equipment and a professional studio. Wagstaff also hooked him up with the New York City arts community, where he started exhibiting his work in 1973.
In 1988, there was a major exhibit of his work at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York and, in 1989, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, with the installation The Perfect Moment.
Political pressure prevented The Perfect Moment from reaching Washington and led to the arrest for obscenity of Dennis Barrie, who was director of the Contemporary Arts Centre in Cincinnati. Barrie was later acquitted at trial by a jury.
In 1988, shortly before his death, Mapplethorpe established the Mapplethorpe Foundation with the goal of preserving his works, contributing to AID’s research, and supporting publications and exhibitions featuring photography.
You’ll be impressed by what you see of Mapplethorpe, but behind the photographs there is the story of art fracking the establishment.
(Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke Ouest, 514-285-2000, Focus: Prevention Robert Mapplethorpe, until January 22, 2017)