The late American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989) is famous for his intimate photographs of his lovers and friends. The Edvard Munch Museum and Galleri Brandstrup in Oslo honor his works.
Galleri Brandstrup displays 32 examples of his mature production, including his very last self-portrait, while the Munch Museum focus on fascinating parallels and points of contact between the art of Edvard Munch and Robert Mapplethorpe. With 141 works from Mapplethorpe and 95 from Munch, this exhibition presents similarities between the two great artists that have never been done before.
Robert Mapplethorpe once described himself as a devil, with a bullwhip for a tail. However, he ended up on the side of the angels with pictures of extreme homosexual act and thereby pushed the American culture wars into high gear.
A quarter-century after his death of age at 42, Saint Robert Mapplethorp was born. “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium” is in view at both the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. An artist once reviled as a pariah and embraced as a martyr has been thoroughly absorbed into mainstream.
Mapplethorpe was born in Floral Park, Queens, New York in 1946. Of his childhood he has said, “I come from suburban America. It was a very safe environment and it was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.”
When it comes to comparing Mapplethorpe and Munch several interesting similarities are revealed. Both are using traditional genres as portraits and nudes, both are self-understanding as artists and both caused scandals with their art. Both were members of a bohemian subcultures of artists that defied the establishment of their era.
The exhibition at Brandstrup presents carefully crafted and controlled studio images for which the artist became renowned. It features self-portraits, figure studies, still lives, and portraits of Mapplethorpe’s lovers and friends. During the early 1980s, his photographs shifted to emphasize classical formal beauty, concentrating on statuesque male and female nudes, flowers and formal portraits.
Mapplethorpe had his own ideas of what makes art valuable. One was its role as witness. “Art is an accurate statement of the time in which it is made,” he said.
He went to art school to study advertising, but in 1963 Mapplethorpe enrolled at Pratt Institute in New York City Mapplethorpe to study drawing, painting and sculpture. He was influenced by artists such as Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp.
At this time he took drugs, dressed weird, and in 1969, dropped out to live in bohemian poverty with a girlfriend, the future poet and performer Patti Smith. Her award-winning 2010 memoir, “Just Kids,” is about their time together in New York. A year later he took up with a man and clarified the erotic direction of his life.
He started experimenting with various materials in his mixed-media collages, including images cut from books and magazines, and in 1970 he acquired a Polaroid camera and began producing his own photographs to incorporate in the collages. For many years he used his Polaroid, taking informal pictures of himself and friends, bit later switched to a Hasselblad medium-format camera and for the rest of his career focused primarily on studio-based photography, which afforded maximum control of the lighting and composition.
Robert Mapplethorpe is one of the most controversial and well-known artists of our era. He made his breakthrough as a photographer in New York in the late 1970s, and his fame grew rapidly in both the US and internationally through the 1980s.Mapplethorpe worked exclusively in black and white photography.
Robert Mapplethorpe established the not-for-profit Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation on May 27, 1988, some ten months before his death, to protect his work, to advance his creative vision and to promote the causes he cared about. Serving as the first president on a five-person board of trustees, he established an initial mandate of furthering the recognition of photography as an art form of the same importance as painting and sculpture. During the last weeks of his life, he added the second mandate of supporting medical research in the area of AIDS and HIV infection.
Both exhibitions in Oslo are organized in cooperation with The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
The exhibition at Galleri Brandstup runs through 28 April
The Exhibition at the Munch museum runs through 29 May
Robert Mapplethorpe Exhibitions in Oslo, written by Tor Kjolberg
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