Robert Mapplethorpe  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, known for his large-scale, highly stylized black & white portraits, photos of flowers and male nudes (Man in Polyester Suit). The frank, erotic nature of some of the work such as The Perfect Moment exhibition (1990) triggered a general controversy about the public funding of artworks.



Mapplethorpe was born and grew up as a Roman Catholic in Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Floral Park, a neighborhood of Queens, New York, of English and Irish heritage. He earned a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he produced artwork in a variety of media.

Mapplethorpe took his first photographs soon thereafter, using a Polaroid camera. In the mid-1970s, he acquired a large-format press camera and began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including artists, composers, socialites, but it wasn't until he met Benjamin Green the pornographic film star, that he truly became inspired to push the envelope of sexuality and photographing the human body. Mapplethorpe was once quoted as saying, "Of all the men and women that I had the pleasure of photographing, Ben Green was the apple of my eye, my unicorn if you will. I could shoot him for hours and hours and no matter the position, each print captured the complete essence of human perfection" (New York Times). It was this relationship that inspired him during the 1980s, to refine his photographs with an emphasis on formal beauty. He concentrated on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and formal portraits of artists and celebrities.

His work

Mapplethorpe made most of his photographs in the studio. Common themes were flowers, especially orchids; portraits of famous individuals, including Andy Warhol, Deborah Harry, Richard Gere, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, and Patti Smith (Patti Smith's portrait [1]was inspired by Durer's 1500 self-portrait [2]) and nude works that include homoerotic imagery from classic nudes to sadistic and masochistic acts. Mapplethorpe is best known for his Portfolio X series, which sparked national attention because of its explicit content and the funding of the effort by the NEA, including a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted in his anus. [3] [4] [5] He also photographed African-American men in ways that have been deemed tantalizing and racist.

Mapplethorpe's work was regularly displayed at publicly funded exhibitions. Conservative and religious organizations, such as the American Family Association opposed supporting his kind of art, and he became something of a cause celebre for both sides in the National Endowment for the Arts funding debate. His The Perfect Moment exhibit in 1990 which included seven sadomasochistic portraits in Cincinnati resulted in the unsuccessful prosecution of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and its director Dennis Barrie on charges of "pandering obscenity".

When it became known that Mapplethorpe was infected with HIV, the prices for his photos increased dramatically. In December 1988 his photos collected $500,000 each. Mapplethorpe died on the morning of March 9, 1989, in a Boston, Massachusetts hospital from complications arising from AIDS; he was 42 years old. His ashes were buried in Queens, New York, in his mother's grave, marked 'Maxey'.

In 1998, the University of Central England was involved in a controversy when books by Mapplethorpe, alleged to contain child pornography, were confiscated from its library. They were ultimately returned, and no charges brought.

In 2003, Arena Editions published Autoportrait, a collection of black and white Polaroid self-portraits that Mapplethorpe took between 1971 and 1973. This was the first time these early works became available for widespread viewing since the 1970s.

In 2006, a Mapplethorpe print of Andy Warhol was auctioned $643,200, making it the 6th most expensive photograph ever sold.


  • In Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy, an episode of The Simpsons, Homer Simpson accidentally grabs a racy photography book by Robert Mapplethorpe at the bookstore.
  • Wes Anderson's 1996 film "Bottle Rocket" features a character with the name Bob Mapplethorpe.
  • Several black, gay activists have criticized Mapplethorpe for his photos that can be viewed as fetishizing black men. [6]
  • Maplethorpe is satirized in the Family Guy episode, "A Picture's Worth A Thousand Bucks". In the episode, Maplethorpe is shown as a artist at an amusement park who draws charicatures. When a child comes to have his charicature drawn, Maplethorpe asks who the child's favorite athlete is, and procedes to state that he will draw him defecating on the child's chest.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Robert Mapplethorpe" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools