You Should Know… Robert Mapplethorpe

The work of Robert Mapplethorpe is as famous for the controversy it caused as for its technical and artistic achievement. His sexually charged images stirred serious discussion about censorship and public finding for the arts when he began a traveling exhibition funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Big Deal:

His photographs depict a variety of subjects, floral still lifes, stylized nudes, and portraits of artists and celebrities. His most talked-about photographs, however, were his studies of the underground S&M scene in New York. Provocative images, including his “Self-portrait with Bullwhip Inserted in Anus” were part of the travelling exhibition that raised the ire of conservative and religious groups like the American Family Association. These groups protested the exhibition and managed to get it banned from some museums.

Life In Brief:

Mapplethorpe studied graphic design at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, but dropped out before completing his degree. He began experimenting with Polaroids in 1970, often incorporating them into collages, or presenting them in ornate, hand-made frames.

By 1975 he had refined his style and began photographing friend and acquaintances with a Hassleblad. Interested in multimedia, Mapplethorpe works in photographs, film, and even set design. In 1986 he is diagnosed with AIDS. One year before his death in 1989, he founds the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, to protect his work and advance the causes he cared about.

Trivia Tidbit:

Was long-time roommate of artist and musician Patti Smith

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1 Comment

  1. ‘Just Kids’ is a beautifully written book by Patti Smith, about their relationship and his subsequent death. It’s truly lovely, and goes into great detail about his and her struggles as artists and living in NY in the late 60’s / early 70’s One of the best books I’ve ever read, highly recommend it.


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