Robert Mapplethorpe


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Photographer, sculptor, and collage artist. Most widely remembered for homoerotic photographs that prompted firestorms of public criticism, he contributed to the broadening dialogue about gay identity and culture while also perfecting an elegant, classicizing approach to form. Besides figural works, he also specialized in similarly ravishing flower studies. A lifelong New Yorker, he was born in the Floral Park section of Queens and trained as an artist between 1963 and 1969 at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, although he did not graduate. He had no intention of becoming a photographer and to the end, wished to be evaluated as an artist. Nevertheless, while making use of photographic reproductions in early 1970s collages and assemblages, he began taking black-and-white Polaroids, which he incorporated in such combinations or mounted in sequences. By the middle of the decade, he had turned to the large-format cameras that he subsequently employed to produce highly detailed, immaculate images. In the overtly homosexual works, emphasis on ideal form contrasts startlingly with subject matter that seemed at the time highly controversial, even distasteful. In the 1980s, as he refined his technique of sharp focus, dramatic lighting, and masterful control over tonal gradation, he broadened his interests to include flowers, as well as portraits and a series devoted to body-builder Lisa Lyon. During that decade, he also experimented with color in a series of dye transfer prints, mostly devoted to still lifes. Concurrently, he continued to produce wall-mounted sculptural assemblages, some incorporating photographs. While undergoing treatment for AIDS, he confronted his demise in an anguishing progression of self-portraits. At the time of his death while undergoing medical treatment in Boston, a major exhibition of his work was touring the country. When it arrived in Cincinnati the next spring, public uproar led to an unprecedented obscenity trial that eventually cleared the director of the Contemporary Arts Center. Mapplethorpe's published collections include Lady: Lisa Lyon (1983) and Black Book (1986), photographs of African-American men.

Subjects: Art.

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