It’s been a marquee year for Robert Mapplethorpe, whose erstwhile loft is just around the corner from The Future Perfect on Bond Street. This year, Mapplethorpe’s work and life was surveyed in the documentary MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES, which takes an unflinching, unprecedented look at Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial photography, which pushed boundaries with its frank depiction of nudity, sexuality and fetishism, igniting a culture war that rages to this day. What’s revealed is a driven, complex man whose controversial work endures today.
The Perfect Medium is a combined retrospective of Mapplethorpr’s work, featured at LACMA and the Getty. The artist remarked in 1988: “I’d like the work to be seen more in the context of all mediums of art and not just photography. I don’t like that isolation.”
Indeed, the visit gets the full immersion into Mapplethrorpe’s work, from early polaroids taken with Patty Smith to found objects and collages. Sex was fundamental to Mapplethorpe’s art. In the late 1960s, he appropriated imagery from gay pornography magazines for collage and assemblage works. By the time he began taking his own photographs in the early 1970s, he had discovered New York’s gay sadomasochistic subculture. Mapplethorpe wanted people to know he was an active participant in this community, not simply an outside observer.
Ultimately, Mapplethorpe’s so-called “sex pictures”—made during a relatively short span of time, between around 1973 and 1980—are less a documentation of sexual activity than a representation of it as a purified ideal, reduced to basic forms and geometries. This combination of unflinching sexual imagery and stunning technical mastery attracted widespread attention and launched Mapplethorpe onto a national and international stage, earning him a reputation as something of an enfant terrible— an identity he embraced, both in his public persona and in the marketing of his work.