When Patti first met Robert he was a shy Catholic boy from Long Island, soon he would transform into one of photography’s most important figures.
For the past six months I have been rigourously researching Robert Mapplethorpe’s X, Y, Z portofolios; X contains his infamous S&M photographs, Y embodies the beautiful yet erotic flower portraits, and Z is a collection of his perfectly sculpted African American nudes. There are thirteen images to each portfolio that were first collectively shown in 1989 and have now resurfaced today at LACMA. I have been investigating the effects that these images have had on the viewer then and now.
The perfect is an ongoing theme for Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, even down to the perfect square negative that his medium format camera, the Hasselblad, produced. Mapplethorpe said, “Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph.” Perfection was not just a theme that Mapplethorpe strove for when photographing, it was also a struggle. His perfect ideas that turned to perfect images often led to a perfect mess: censorship. Censorship followed Mapplethorpe like Death, lurking around each corner, waiting to pull him and his images into the depths of controversy. “They” say that no publicity is bad publicity; in the case of Mapplethorpe, this is true. The controversy behind his images and museum/gallery career made Mapplethorpe an iconic figure in the photography world. Mapplethorpe has been subjected to censorship, even after death, and now that his art is being looked at again at a different period of history, I wonder how the public will respond. The context of Mapplethorpe’s photography then and now has not changed, but the world and its culture has. Will Americans be more willing and accepting to re-welcome this art that was once labeled “obscene” and, even more important, is it still considered “obscene”?
*Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in, Janet Kardon, “Robert Mapplethorpe Interview” in Robert Mapplethorpe, The Perfect Moment (Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1988), 28.