Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium

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With a practice steeped in controversy, Robert Mapplethorpe’s work is crisp, often confronting, and occasionally revelatory. Organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and J. Paul Getty Museum, in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium presents a selection of photographs from still lifes to portraits and figure studies. Getty Museum curator, Paul Martineau, remarks that the exhibition aims to represent the artist’s career with a new approach. “The exhibition features a selection of the artist’s early works, as well as a full array of the gelatin silver, platinum, or dye transfer prints for which he is best-known,” he says.

Martineau believes the appeal of Mapplethorpe’s work lies in not just its exacting beauty, but in how
he “often deals with difficult subject matter,” such as sexuality and identity.

“Mapplethorpe understood the importance of keeping the public interested in him and styled himself in different guises over the course of his career”, he says. These personas ranged from the hyper masculine and the overtly effeminate, to representations of the devil. His involvement in the gay scene and BDSM culture in New York resulted in some of the most powerful and evocative images, exposing a world rarely spoken about.

The work of Mapplethorpe is unique, as Getty Museum curator Britt Salvesen explains, “A Mapplethorpe print can never be mistaken for the work of any other artist.” He maintains, “On another level, at a distance of 30 years, we can fully appreciate Mapplethorpe’s significance as an artist who made a case for photography’s validity in the contemporary art world, and who refused to draw a line between his art and his life.”

Naomi Gall