Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe (b. 1946 NY) was an American photographer known for his black-and-white portraits and for documenting New York’s S&M scene. He was concerned with Classical aspects of beauty, whether in his nudes, floral still lives, or self-portraits—light, shadow, composition, and form were central to all his work. While Mapplethorpe did not agree with the claim that his provocative images were “shocking,” his work came under fire from the religious right in the late 1980s for its supposed obscenity, sparking a national discussion as to whether the US government should fund the arts at all.

Inspired by the mixed-media approaches of Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp, Mapplethorpe combined Polaroids with cut text to create collages in the 1970s. He would also utilize different photographic techniques, such as photogravures and Cibachrome, throughout his career. One year before his death on March 9, 1989 at the age of 42 in Boston, MA from an AIDS-related illness, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York presented the first major retrospective of his work at an American museum. In 2019, a retrospective of Mapplethorpe's work entitled Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now took place at the Guggenheim in New York. Today, his works can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, among others.