BY SEBASTIEN ROBILLARD
I enjoy visiting museums, that’s why I couldn’t refuse the invitation from MBAM to preview the Mapplethorpe exhibit. Been a photographer myself I always enjoy seeing great photographers work. I have to say that I didn’t know Mapplethorpe, but he surely has an interesting career progression and path.
Robert Mapplethorpe was born in Queens in 1946 and grew up in a middle-class Catholic household. In 1967, he enrolled at the Pratt Institute, where he majored in advertising before switching to graphic design. At first, he conformed to masculine norms, but like many young people of his generation, he gravitated toward the counterculture, attracted by a glimpse of alternative lifestyles. Not yet a photographer himself, he appropriated photographic imagery from publications and advertisements, manipulating them, spray-painting over them, and incorporating them in collages. Already he was revealing both his iconoclastic tendencies and his pragmatic determination to make art despite having little money to spend on supplies. Patti Smith – his close friend – immediately recognized his talent and ambition. When Mapplethorpe took up the camera (a borrowed Polaroid) in 1970, he realized that photography was the perfect medium for him and, as he put it, for the moment.
The observational potential and instantaneity of the Polaroid triggered his full creative powers. But ultimately, Mapplethorpe was after a more refined, upscale product. He wanted to make art, and this meant using high-end equipment, establishing a professional studio, controlling print quality and quantity, showing in respected galleries and museums, and making money. Thanks to supporters like Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr. and to his own charisma and drive, Mapplethorpe became adept at moving between uptown and downtown circles, both socially and artistically. In less than fifteen years, he built an impressive body of work and exhibition history, starting with his first solo show in 1973 and concluding with major retrospectives in 1989, the year he died at the age of forty-two.
Awareness of his mortality – he had been diagnosed HIV positive in 1986 – was a strong factor in the creation of his personal style. Before he died, Mapplethorpe wanted to establish once and for all the continuity of vision uniting all his photographs: portraits, sexual images and floral still lifes. This was both a personal credo and, he must have felt, a successful and original “brand” that constituted his artistic legacy. In 1988, Mapplethorpe established a foundation to conserve his legacy and determined the manifold mission it upholds to this day: supporting AIDS research and photography publications and exhibitions.
The exhibit will be held until January 2017
For more details : www.mbam.qc.ca