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Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe

Image: Patti Smith, 1979

Patti Smith, 1979

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1980 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) became famous, not to say notorious, in the 1970s and 1980s for his photographs of male and female nudes and for his depictions of gay, sado-masochistic sex. His exploration of hitherto hidden areas of life was very much part of the sexual liberation movements of that time. Now, over 15 years after his death, it is possible to look more dispassionately at the full range of Mapplethorpe’s photographs and see that other subjects, flowers, and in particular, portraits occupy central roles in his practice. The world that he represented in his photographs was focused on New York at a time of tremendous social and artistic ferment. He took iconic photographs of many of the artists, writers, pop and film stars and socialites of the day and even his flowers he termed ‘New York flowers’, because of their showy, spiky and sexy shapes.

Mapplethorpe was a perfectionist, who cared for traditional values of tone and composition. He chose on the whole to photograph beautiful people, in a light which brought out their best features and emphasised balance and symmetry. Increasingly as the AIDS epidemic took its toll particularly on the gay community Mapplethorpe drew attention in his work to the links between beauty, eros and death, drawing on some of the traditional memento mori (‘remember you must die’) symbols of art history. But, ultimately, it was life that interested Mapplethorpe and, even when he was staring death (from AIDS) in the face, he was resolute in his defiance.

This is the first exhibition devoted to Robert Mapplethorpe’s work to be held in Scotland and is the first retrospective to be held in Britain for a decade.
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