First thing associated with Robert Mapplethorpe is usually the controversial and often explicit depiction of the New York S&M scene, which he so majestically captured in the late 1970s. Truthfully, it is these controversial images and photographs of both male and female nudes that were signature to his work, and coincidentally made him one of the most prominent photographers. However, Mapplethorpe’s portfolio goes far beyond these kinds of subjects, his work also included magnificent pieces of still life, an array of different subjects, and more importantly – celebrity portraits. Robert Mapplethorpe portraits of artists and celebrities are to be displayed in a selection in The Magic in the Muse at the Bowes Museum in County Durham in North East England.
Quite early, Robert Mapplethorpe discovered joy in taking Polaroid photographs, back in 1970. Eventually, he replaced the Polaroid with a Hasselblad medium-format camera and began shooting pictures of his circle of friends and acquaintances. These people, whom he associated with, were often famous musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, and members of the S&M underground. Later on, he shifted the focus of his career onto the S&M subculture, vividly capturing that scene and lifestyle. However, portraiture has always represented the central component of his creative output. Mapplethorpe’s stylized compositions challenged society’s relationship with the celebrities, body image and male/female nudity. His works managed to both question and adhere to classical aesthetic standards, introducing and refining different techniques and formats, the artist gained worldwide recognition and renown.
The exhibition The Magic in the Muse aims to open, or rather, continue the dialogue between Mapplethorpe’s work and the concepts of contemporary society’s unfading fascination with the cult of celebrity. The unfading obsession with the celebrity figures is perhaps now stronger than ever, and work of the late American artist has proven to be timeless when it comes to these subjects. Mapplethorpe also explored the powers of advertising, self-promotion through imagery and the growing sense of the self, notions that are still very present and current at this day and age. His ingenuity resides in the fact that even though mostly working in black and white, he managed to develop a signature aesthetic of technical mastery and formal beauty, combined with the themes of controversial and contemporary matter. Mapplethorpe effectively merged the classical traditions of art history in the basis of his practice and the outlandish, confronting imagery that remains relevant even today.
As it often happens in the contemporary world, the more controversial and nude/pornographic-inclined works tend to overshadow anything else an artist does, and steal the spotlight from other works. Well, this show will remedy that trend. The Magic in the Muse exhibition will showcase a selection of Robert Mapplethorpe’s stunning portraits of musicians, artists, and some of the most influential figures who were part of the artist’s wider circle of friends in the 70s and 80s. The pieces were carefully drawn and selected from the collection of Artist Rooms, owned by the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. The images displayed will feature prominent names like Andy Warhol, Iggy Pop, Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Hockney, and the artist’s companion, Patti Smith. The exhibition is on view until April 24, 2016, at the Bowes Museum in County Durham in North East England.
All images used for illustrative purposes only