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Who was Robert Mapplethorpe?

By Francisco Lacerda

© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.  Used by permission.

Mapplethorpe was a Queer artist who was born in New York in the U.S. in 1946.
In the 1990s, he saw his work being exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, which would later be censored for obscenity, and the museum director brought to court and later convicted. In the city of Cincinnati there had been a big debate about the influence of religion and politics in art. That is why there is an extreme importance for this artist. In addition, Robert Mapplethorpe grew up with the fight for homosexual rights in the U.S., during the Stonewall Riots in 1969 (struggles between the LGBT community and the police) and in 1983 the first HIV virus was detected. In the 1980s, he had a relationship with art collector Sam Wagstaf, who had offered him a studio in Manhattan. His work has been rejected and criticized by the media, artists and politicians, over and over again, with prejudice related to his personal life and his work.


© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.  Used by permission.

Mapplethorpe began by being a painter and sculptor influenced by Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. He later devoted himself to photography (using Polaroids) in black and white where he photographed: ancient Greek sculptures, also showing his obsession with perfection, which Michelangelo has always sought; androgen and fashion; to artists like Andy Wharol or David Hockney, both also gay; the sexuality of flowers, with references to O’Keefe; to children, some of them nude in portraits (authorized by their parents), others in a series inspired by the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron; naked women and men, exploring American erotic photography, BSDM subculture and censorship or freedom of expression; to himself, in a series of photographs that reveal his death.

Mapplethorpe died in 1989 with HIV / AIDS. Later the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation was created, a foundation that fights for the cure of HIV / AIDS, promotion of photography and serves as a symbol of the LGBT fight.

Joaquim Norte de Sousa © Fundação de Serralves © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.  Used by permission.

On September 20, 2018, the Serralves Foundation decided to inaugurate an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe, entitled “Pictures”. An exhibition full of controversy, because of the fact that some photographs of this artist were not allowed to be exhibited. In fact, it is to be regretted that more than 25 years after his death, these Mapplethorpe works are still being censored. But more worrying is the fact that there are museums and foundations dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art, that are becoming increasingly dependent on patrons, whose sole purpose is to control what should and should not be exposed, as well as to control the art market. In addition, would it be interesting to see the effect that the exposure had on the number of visits to the Serralves Foundation? In worst case hope, this shall be a marketing strategy…

Joaquim Norte de Sousa © Fundação de Serralves © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.  Used by permission.

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