With so many artists getting their personal in-depth interviews, documentaries and biographies explored during their lifetime or posthumously, it truly makes us wonder how a legend like Robert Mapplethorpe hasn’t received a feature documentary of his own, until now. Robert Mapplethorpe documentary will be produced by HBO, taking the viewers inside the fearless mind and genius of the controversial artist. This will be a first full-length documentary since his death in 1989, providing the fans and audience with a long-deserved homage to the ground-breaking artist. Even though there have been previous inclusions of Mapplethorpe in documentaries and biographies, such as Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe from 2007, this would be the photography legend’s first full-length documentary since his death several decades ago. Exclusive, never-before-seen footage and information have been announced by the film makers.
Fenton Bailey and Robert Barbato, creators of the award-winning Inside Deep Throat, are responsible for the first feature documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe. In collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation’s archives, the directors had full access which granted them permission to use some of the never-before-seen photos and footage, naturally, much of it uncomfortable due to their provocative character. According to the directors’ statement, even the most forbidden and shocking images created by Mapplethorpe are included in this film, no blurs, no snickers, exactly as the artist originally intended. The documentary is entitled Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, and the creators intentionally aimed to use their privileged access to the vault of Mapplethorpe’s work to portray the life of the artist as much as revealing and as candid as possible. After all, that is the only way to make a proper tribute to an audacious and barrier-breaking artist such as Robert Mapplethorpe.
Set to be released in April, 2016, the documentary will focus on Mapplethorpe’s early years and life in New York, where he studied art at Pratt and formed a romantic relationship and lifelong friendship with Patti Smith. Original interviewees will include Fran Lebowitz, Brooke Shields, Debbie Harry, Carolina Herrera, and Mapplethorpe’s brother and sister. The footage will feature the artist’s friends, lovers and mentors with Marcus Leatherdale and Sam Wagstaff among them. The film follows Mapplethorpe’s photographic endeavors which focused on capturing BDSM culture in 1970s NY, all the way to his AIDS diagnosis and ultimately his death in 1989. 2016 will definitely be the year of Robert Mapplethorpe. One of his controversial photographs Man in Polyester Suit sold for $478,000 at Sotheby’s in October, and once the film is released, Mapplethorpe will surely spike again in the art market considering the unseen footage that will be shown and the buzz it will generate. Even 25 years later, his photographs still draws much attention due to its controversial and NSFW nature, but it is not only the obvious obscene nudity that steals the focus from his work, the complex messages about race, power and sexuality are the elements which elevate Mapplethorpe’s creativity onto a completely different level. An in-depth look into the artist's oeuvre such as this documentary will hopefully reveal even more about the creative force and the genius aspect behind Robert Mapplethorpe.
A joint retrospective organized by the Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, named Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, will coincide with the release of the documentary and open in March 2016. Delving into the late artist’s disciplined studio practice, the show will feature more than 300 mostly black-and-white portraits, still life works and nudes. Figure studies, methods, sources, creative processes and legacy of Robert Mapplethorpe will be explored and displayed at the exhibition. Acquired from the archives of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, private correspondence, books, and ephemera from the late artist’s estate will be on display, in addition to 30 complementary works from other artists. The exhibition will travel to other international venues after Los Angeles, namely, Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
All images used for illustrative purposes only