Foreword -Why Mapplethorpe?
Mapplethorpe's name evokes strong images of nudes, still lifes, and portraits. They captivate and keep the gaze moving from subject to form and from object to context. In the studio atmosphere, where the models pose, where celebrities or unknowns are defined by the lens, where flowers don't symbolize nature anymore but become urban manifestations, the artist puts himself on stage, participating faithfully in his own actions. Photography is for Mapplethorpe a medium, a tool that fits his intentions. He used the camera in the same way as the painter or sculptor uses his traditional instruments. Earl on, Mapplethorpe appreciated the instant nature and rapidity of this medium, which perfectly suited the rhythm of the society he lived in. The many pictures he used to take of each subject are all sketches and preliminary works that enable the artist to focus his attention on his quest for the form, for centering and lighting, and, along the same lines, on the quest for the attitude he strives to capture. The variety of techniques arises from his inquiry into material and photography as an object tracked down through extreme expressions. While identifying himself as a painter, he fixes the image on the canvas and, by doing so, questions the illusionist game of painting as well as the fragility of the photographic medium.
Mapplethorpe could never have been caught in the act of being a voyeur. His lens reveals subjects in which the artist gets involved directly, as in the series of self-portraits, or shows him as a careful eyewitness and partisan of the scene, even when he keeps out of the picture. This approach has a value of a please, and his commitment to the themes he selected is total. The fast collapse of distance between what has been seen and what has been lived confers on his work an exceptional dimension of authenticity.
The choice of Mapplethorpe’s work for the second exhibition at the FAE Museum of Contemporary Art is dictated not only by the originality and the great capacity for work of this artist but also by the museum’s concern, which is to offer the public a comprehensive set of works by a creator who remains largely unknown in Europe. A photographer seeking to go beyond the technical boundaries of his medium; an explorer of new themes drawn from the social context of his time; an artist who managed to reconcile the emotional content of his subjects with the formal concerns underlying his whole work; a conjurer of subject from which he creates unusual images, with their centering, definition of light, isolation of details, fit between the image and its environment, and incredible plasticity of forms. These characteristics precisely suit the objective set by the FAE Museum of Contemporary Art: to provide visitors with intense visual experiences that lie at the fringe of convention. The proposed selection of works allows us to trace Mapplethorpe’s artistic commitment beginning in the early ‘70s. The course of his work centers upon a continuous line that for each group of subjects constantly reactivates the quest for a durable and often idealized beauty, although held tightly in its topicality.
We wish to thank warmly all the persons who made this exhibition, so close to our hearts, possible. We are most grateful for the wonderful collaboration with Mr. and Mrs. Richard Black who very generously lent a large set of major works that present a wide variety of subjects treated by Mapplethorpe. This selection was completed by an important group of works from private collections and galleries that enabled us to set up the first retrospective of Mapplethorpe in Europe. The fantastic enthusiasm expressed by these lenders gave us outstanding support and we wish to especially thank them for their invaluable collaboration.
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