Robert Mapplethorpe

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Robert Mapplethorpe | Listal/Estate of Robert Mapplethorpe | 14328

Robert Mapplethorpe was born on November 4, 1946 and died on March 9, 1989 of complications arising from Aids. He was an American photographer who was known for his large-scale, highly stylized black and white portraits, photos of flowers and nudes. A strong current of sexuality runs through much of Mapplethorpe’s work. There is even a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted in his anus. The homoerotic nature of some of his work triggered a controversy about the public funding of artworks and in some cases led to exhibits and even complete exhibitions being withdrawn.

Andy Warhol | Robert Mapplethorpe | Estate of Robert Mapplethorpe | 14329

Arts in Company reports:

“A retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work was organized by the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art, which had received $30,000 for the show from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The retrospective, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, included 150 of Mapplethorpe’s images: formal portraiture, flowers, children, and carefully posed, sexually explicit, erotic scenes, some of which were sadomasochistic including the “X Portfolio”. The exhibit was scheduled to tour seven cities throughout the United States.

As the show traveled, there were a wide variety of responses to the same material. For example, in Philadelphia and Chicago, early in the tour, the show went largely unremarked and generally received positive reviews. In Chicago, the show attracted record-breaking crowds at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

By the summer of 1989, however, with the show heading to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., outrage over Mapplethorpe’s work and the use of federal money to fund the exhibit grew to a fever pitch. Although most of the controversy focused on the gay sexual content of several of the photographs, many conservative leaders and critics also purported to find Mapplethorpe’s portraits of Black men racist and branded the nude studies of young children (both male and female) child pornography.

The outrage over Mapplethorpe’s work was fueled mainly by such conservative politicians as Jesse Helms, Dick Armey, and Alfonse D’Amato. Conservative cultural critic Richard Grenier, writing in the Washington Times, labeled Mapplethorpe “the great catamite” and fantasized about dousing the body of the photographer with kerosene and burning it.”


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