The Alison Jaques Gallery in Central is currently holding a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition curated by the Scissor Sisters. As I don’t really listen to the Scissor Sisters the fact they were curating didn’t really excite me but to be able to see Mapplethorpe’s work sure did. I wrote a huge paper on New York artists who helped raise AIDS awareness so I was pretty familiar with Mapplethorpe but had never seen his stuff in the flesh.
Mapplethorpe (b. New York, 1946, d. 1989) started off drawing and making collages. He was bezzies with Patti Smith. If anyone of you have read her autobiography Just Kids you’ll know quite a lot about Mapplethorpe already. They met in a park while Patti was sleeping on a bench and they quickly became friends and lovers until Mapplethorpe came out of the closet. They both had great influence over each other and supported each other while they were struggling to find themselves, a place to call home and enough money to not starve in the relentlessly fast paced New York City of the 1970s and 80s. They lived in the infamous Chelsea Hotel, chilled out with Warhol and The Velvet Underground in Max’s Kansas City, a bar which acted as the cultural heart of the city.
Mapplethorpe was always super controversial with his photography displaying naked men, cocks, bull whips in bumholes (in which he was the subject) and people clad in S&M gear. Mapplethorpe even managed to capture flowers with an undertone of aggressiveness and promiscuity. I usually find it hard to look at artists from back in the day that were oh-so-shocking and understand why they were. Today, violence and sex is thrust in our face constantly so, you know, whatever, it’s a cock. Big deal. But I look at Mapplethorpe’s work and I can still get why it was shocking and why he turned out to be one of the most unforgettable artists of the 20th Century. What’s different about Mapplethorpe is that he didn’t take these images to shake us (his friends/subjects said this in interviews but you also get the drift when you look at his work yourself). He simply captured the environment around him: the male prostitutes he encountered in Times Square, the S&M bathhouses he went to and his fascination with the naked male body. He explored his life and his interests and sometimes the result was outrageous.
Well, I’m a big fan anyway and I think the Scissor Sisters did an amazing job in curating the exhibition. You’ve got Mapplethorpe’s photography, beautiful mirrored sculptures, random objects Mapplethorpe made, video installations (one with Patti Smtith) and a documentary interviewing Mapplethorpe, his subjects and other artists. On ’til the 19th of March so no excuse not to go!