Robert Mapplethorpe

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Wrestler', 1989
Robert Mapplethorpe

Hailed as the greatest studio photographer of his generation, Mapplethorpe was initially thought an iconoclastic practitioner of ‘deviant art’ but his work is now considered to be of huge art historical and social significance. He rose to simultaneous fame and notoriety in the 1980s for his controversially explicit sexual imagery that sought to upend traditional notions of beauty.

Mapplethorpe’s first solo exhibition was held in 1977 in New York featuring photographs of flowers, male nudes and sadomasochistic scenes. In 1978 Mapplethrope gained notoriety when the explicit images in his book X Portfolio caused a national outcry. Mapplethorpe’s work was not only shocking but also technically innovative in its use of 20 x 24 inch Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen and dye transfer colour prints.

His work became more focused on notions of classical beauty through the 1980s as he undertook still lifes and formal portraits with an exacting formalism reminiscent of Edward Weston. Although sometimes cast as a ‘documentarian’ of the New York gay scene, Mapplethrope was more concerned with the potential of the camera to invent and renew rather than document.

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