Published: October 23, 2012
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is showing the X, Y, and Z portfolios created by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946‱989). On view through February 3, “Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ” features 39 black and white photographs, exploring three subject matters: homosexual sadomasochistic imagery (X, published in 1978); flower still lifes (Y, 1978); and nude portraits of African American men (Z, 1981).
This is the first presentation of the artist’s work since the 2011 joint acquisition of Mapplethorpe’s art and archives by LACMA, The J. Paul Getty Museum and The Getty Research Institute. The acquisition included more than 1,900 editioned prints and 1,000-plus non-editioned prints, 200 unique mixed-media objects, approximately 160 Polaroids, 120,000 negatives and extensive working materials, ephemera and documents.
Concurrent with the LACMA exhibition, The J. Paul Getty Museum is presenting “In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe,” which will be on view through March 24.
Mapplethorpe grew up in the suburban area of Floral Park, Queens. As a student at the Pratt Institute in New York, he studied drawing, painting and sculpture and experimented with various materials in mixed media collages. When he acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970, Mapplethorpe began incorporating his own photos into his constructions. His first solo gallery exhibition, “Polaroids,” took place at Light Gallery in New York City in 1973.
Two years later he transitioned from the Polaroid to a medium-format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances. His subjects †artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars and members of the S&M underground †came from a variety of backgrounds.
Mapplethorpe’s interest in documenting the New York S&M scene was strongest in the late 1970s, when he produced photographs with shocking content but remarkable technique and formal mastery. In 1978, the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City became his exclusive dealer.
Throughout the 1980s, Mapplethorpe produced images that challenged yet adhered to classical aesthetic standards, including stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities. He explored and refined different techniques and formats †including color 20-by-24-inch Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color processes †but gelatin silver printing remained his primary medium. In 1986, Robert Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry and accepted numerous commissions.
The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death. Beyond the art historical and social significance of his work, his legacy lives on through the work of Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which he established in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art and to find medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV-related infection.
LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue). For more information, 323-857-6000 or www.lacma.org .
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