Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition:
Photographs and Mannerist Prints
By DEBORAH GARWOOD
Robert Mapplethorpe's innate magnetism contributes to
the enduring glamour, appeal and controversy of his
legacy. This exhibition's theme was the relationship
between Mapplethorpe's photographs and the "classical
In art historical terms, the classical tradition
centers upon the figure, the nude figure in
particular. It has everything to do with Greco-Roman
statuary and the foundations of western civilization.
The connection Mapplethorpe's work bears to classical,
sculptural figuration is instantly apparent.
|ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE AND THE CLASSICAL TRADITION:|
|Exhibition: Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition:.|
| July 8 - August 28, 2005|
Gallery: Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Av
New York NY
Hours: Sa-W 10-5:45; F 10-8; closed Th.
Phone: (212) 423-3500
The curators also brought 16th century Netherlandish
Mannerist engravings into the conversation. We tend to
forget that engravings played a crucial role for
several centuries before photography was invented. The
Mannerist style is characterized by dramatic, often
allegorical scenes that emphasize the muscular energy
of nude figures in action, to the point of
exaggeration. This group of engravings was drawn from
a collection in the State Hermitage Museum, St.
Petersburg, in an overall collaboration between the
The curatorial premise was outlined in an overview of
Mapplethorpe's development in the High Gallery, where
familiar prints and early Polaroids were shown
alongside classical statues and Mannerist engravings.
Mapplethorpe himself once suggested he would have been
a sculptor if born 200 years ago. He found photography
to be "a perfect way to make a sculpture."|
Illustrating this, his photograph entitled Apollo,
(1988) was hung near the statue that served as the
The image's bold, marble white profile versus the
statue's surprisingly diminutive size was striking.
Viewing them in close proximity revealed a quality of
heroic transformation that pervades Mapplethorpe's
mature sensibility. The god's perfect but delicate
facial features take on the monumentality and
permanence of an Egyptian colossus in the photograph.
As Mapplethorpe entered the art world during the
1970s, his obsession with the human body and
contemporary gay and punk subcultures included a
sometimes witty but reliably fierce determination to
explore to embrace with great nuance, really his
own homosexuality. He raised the stakes considerably
when he began to explore erotic themes in classical
art. This was the show's essential point. A self
portrait in which the artist wears a Halloween
ornament sprouting little plastic horns, hanging next
to his photograph of the sculptured head of an Italian
devil (the god Pan?), supported the classical thesis
Pairings with the Mannerist prints were more numerous
but often had mixed success. A print featuring
Demeter's coif accented with wheat fronds, beside
Mapplethorpe's 1970s portrait of a man with a punk
haircut, was at best forced.
|Mapplethorpe's transgression of
high culture as much as the breathtaking courage of
his oeuvre brought him to the
epicenter of art and censorship issues...|| |
During the 1980s Mapplethorpe's sense of rapture in
the classical ideal found full expression through
photographing live, lithe bodies of unusually powerful
dancers and bodybuilders notably those who, like
him, broke stereotypes. It was Mapplethorpe's
transgression of high culture as much as the
breathtaking courage of his oeuvre that brought him to
the epicenter of art and censorship issues before he
died of AIDS in 1988.
Taken altogether, the exhibition persuasively
demonstrated how Mapplethorpe's daring mise en scene
of extraordinary physiques set in classical poses
brilliantly reiterated that paradox between human
individuality and allegorical timelessness which
enlivens the classical tradition, even now.
|SEPTEMBER 21, 2005|
OFFOFFOFF.COM THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK
Reader comments on Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition::
Post a comment on "Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition:"