Stockholm #2: Robert Mapplethrope at Fotografiska

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) is undoubtedly one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. He was inspired by the sculpture of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and translated this aesthetic to a time and culture of his own, namely New York’s gay scene in the 1980s. The resulting images portray the beautifully lit unadorned bodies of muscular men. Moreover, Mapplethorpe depicted female nudes, various flowers, in addition to portraits of his friends and acquaintances such as Patti Smith, Louise Bourgeois, and Robert Rauschenberg. Regardless of motif Mapplethorpe’s photographs continuously reflected the same formalist aesthetic for which he is known. Fotografiska is proud to present a retrospective of nearly 200 of these stunning prints, on loan from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York, many which have never been exhibited in Sweden before.

Admittedly Mapplethorpe’s images of male nudes, phalluses, and S&M subculture are known to provoke or even shock, although they were photographed decades ago. In 1988 Mapplethorpe responded to ARTnews with the statement, “I don’t like that particular word ‘shocking.’ I’m looking for the unexpected. I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before … I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them.”

Mapplethorpe began his artistic career in 1963 at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture. He acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970 and began producing his own photographs in order to incorporate the images into his collages. That same year he moved into the Chelsea Hotel, where he resided side by side with some of the most influential musicians and artists of the time, including Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and Janis Joplin.

In the mid 1970s Mapplethorpe obtained a Hasselblad 500. The Swedish brand medium-format camera required him to work meticulously. As a result Mapplethorpe transitioned to studio photography. Within the space of his studio Mapplethorpe was able to hone his craft as well as the visual language that distinguished his career. Today Mapplethorpe is considered to be one of the most significant photographers in the history of the medium, and his oeuvre is represented in major museums throughout the world.

Robert Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989.

Text taken from Fotografiska website here.

Check out his Foudnation here.

Just a short response from us, it was a complete privilege to be able to see Mapplethorpe’s works physically, within a space filled with his retrospective collections. Although it was a complete coincidence that Fotografiska was showing his works as we were presenting for the fringe festival, the show not only an excitement but also a lesson learnt.

As we are staging a tribute show next year in the Substation, which will run from 18-30 June 2012, a show curated by Marla Bendini with title HANDSOME:IV, we want to highlight an important issue. As our team walked through the black walled gallery of Fotografiska, we noticed commonplace. Yes, we have seen Mapplethorpe’s works online and on printed media for many many times that looking at his actual works, was no longer about discovery but more of assurance. Of course this dilemma also is applicable to other artists, Mona Lisa for one, and in the age of online community and contemporary context, we want the tribute show to be challenging. Bendini will be curating with a direction of Scissor Sister’s approach towards Mapplethorpe’s works. They curated a show titled Night Work, which you can check out the video here.

The tribute show will feature works by Chan Wai Teik, Otto Fong, Marcus Mok, Jason Lee, Faisal Husni and many others.

RAP also brought home a copy of BLACK BOOK, a photography book showing Mapplethorpe’s black nudes photos. Check out its Amazon’s page here. If you’d like to borrow or browse the book, please drop us an email at

Last but not least, thank you Mapplethorpe! The Foundation is among the respected which inspires this initiative and we’ll work for a great collaboration next year at the Substation.

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