Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe
The seminally talented photographer from New York’s roaring eighties

American photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) would have felt right at home in Rotterdam today. A city with edge, just like his work. See it at the Kunsthal…

EVELIEN BAKS

Robert Mapplethorpe was quite a guy. Gaining prominence during the exciting 70s and 80s’ art scene in New York, he hung out with a crowd destined for fame – singer Patti Smith, his once girlfriend and muse, contemporary and rival Pop Art maestro, Andy Warhol. Greats passed before his camera lens, including actor Isabella Rossellini, bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, and artist Louise Bourgeois, all nonconformists like him. But he was probably the most extraordinary of them all. A pioneer, a perfectionist, a puritan, and a controversial figure that confronted gallery owners with his images of homoeroticism, sexual fetishism, and other challenging material. Exhibitions were sometimes cancelled at the last minute, considered too shocking, sometimes even landing him in court.

You don’t have to travel all the way to America to learn about the work and life of one of the 20th century’s most unique artists and photographers. At Rotterdam’s Kunsthal this spring and summer, in an European exclusive, Mapplethorpe’s soul is laid bare in a large overview of his work. Some 200 photos capture his artistic development over almost three decades. From the young artist that made trinkets for his mother to the celebrated photographer whose work became recognised as ‘art’, something he strove for in life. His unprecedented technique and drive for perfectionism is soul food for photography fans. That he used a master printer to produce his images says enough.

Iconic photos that made Mapplethorpe world famous such as the elegant stretched out leg of bodybuilder Lisa, the becrowned and naked ballroom-dancing men (Two Men Dancing), the portrait of the naked black Ken Moody and white Robert Sherman, both affected by alopecia, the almost erotic flower (Poppy). Provocative collages, stylish self-portraits, Andy Warhol with a halo about his crop of white hair, a naked Patti Smith – each and every one fascinating in its own right. A wonderful insight to the roaring seventies and eighties scene and how Mapplethorpe paved his way to international fame with his singularity. Mapplethorpe died of AIDs in his early forties, sadly cutting short his life and stimulating oeuvre. We are fortunate to have this retrospective.

Robert Mapplethorpe, a perfectionist: until 27 August at the Kunsthal, www.kunsthal.nl

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