Thirty-three years after his death in 1989, the soul of photographic legend Robert Mapplethorpe lives on in his iconic pictures, which can now be enjoyed at a special exhibition called Staging: Mapplethorpe, held at multi-concept space Appetite till April 9.
A first solo show in Singapore — held in collaboration with Xavier Hufkens Gallery which represents the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation — the showcase is a look into the artist’s pursuit of beauty explored through the human form, flora and still life.
“Given that many artists, photographers and art lovers here are familiar with his practice, we felt it important to present this exhibition and create an opportunity for our community to interact with his works more intimately,” says Ivan Brehm, owner of Appetite.
The pieces in this exhibition were selected by art lead and curator Clara Peh Che Wei for their ability to complement the exhibition space. “Appetite, being a multi-concept space that is an R&D kitchen, record bar and gallery all-in-one, gives us the opportunity to showcase some of his most prominent works in a different, warmer light. Some of the works we have on display, such as ‘Flower’ (1980), evoke a sense of domesticity and familiarity, while works such as ‘Tiger Lily’ (1987) and ‘Orchid’ (1982) speak of sensuality and desire, which pairs well with the kitchen,” says Peh.
She continues: “Each of these works can be seen as testaments to Mapplethorpe’s technical rigour and the duality he embodied and exemplified in his practice — capturing both the light and the dark beautifully.”
Mentioned in the same breath as iconic shutterbugs of our time like Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and Steven Meisel, Mapplethorpe was one of the 20th century’s most important and influential artists, known for his ground-breaking and oftentimes provocative work depicting the sexual revolution of the 1970s.
Some of his most famous works were shot between 1979 and 1987, his most prolific time and a tumultuous decade marked by a tectonic shift in economic landscapes, the rise of political conservatism in the US and the height of the AIDS pandemic, a disease that would, ultimately and unfortunately, take the artist’s life.
Singer-songwriter, poet and author Patti Smith, who was Mapplethorpe’s long-time friend, remembers him fondly in her memoir, Just Kids: “Robert took areas of dark human consent and made them into art. He was not looking to make a political statement or an announcement of his evolving sexual persuasion. He was presenting something new, something not seen or explored as he saw and explored it. As Cocteau said of a Genet poem, ‘His obscenity is never obscene.’”
Born in 1946 in Floral Park, New York, Mapplethorpe enrolled at the Pratt Institute where he majored in Graphic Arts, though he dropped out in 1969 before finishing his degree. He began work as a graphic designer before moving on to sculpture and painting.
Serendipitously, he discovered a love for photography after acquiring a Polaroid camera and subsequently, a Hasselblad medium-sized camera. The next thing he knew, he was shooting the who’s-who of popular culture at the famous Chelsea Hotel — a stomping ground for countless artists, writers, poets, actors and musicians.
Across his vast and provocative oeuvre, Mapplethorpe’s works are recognised for their formal precision and characteristics of classical beauty, captured through a balance and harmony presented in his compositions. Although a large chunk of his work was devoted to homoerotic themes such as the gay BDSM subculture of New York shot in black-and-white, Mapplethorpe also enjoyed taking portraits, self-portraits, nudes and floral still lifes.
His works are on display in different collections at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art and J Paul Getty Museum; and Tate and National Galleries of Scotland.
PICTURES: ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE FOUNDATION