Mapplethorpe Portraits at UofAby Ben McNitt on Aug. 25, 2009, under arts
THE UofA’s CENTER FOR CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY is offering a chance to see the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe again – and maybe for the first time.
Mapplethorpe’s 1989-1990 exhibit “The Perfect Moment” – that reached the public months after his death at the age of 42 from complications arising from AIDS – created a major battle in the culture wars with its explicit homoerotic and sadomasochistic images.
The uproar seared an image of Mapplethorpe into the public mind to the exclusion of nearly all his other work.
And it is that other work – a vast body of strikingly dramatic portraits – that is represented in 104 Mapplethorpe photographs on display at the Center through October 4.
Cass Fey, the Center’s Curator of Education, was kind enough to walk me through the exhibit on a visit there the other day.
“The exhibit gives people the chance to rethink the name Mapplethorpe,” she said. “By allowing the portraits to stand alone you can draw a fresh assessment of his work.”
Welcome to the New York arts and cultural scene of the 70s and 80s. They are all there – the artists, actors, painters, musicians, and writers who were at the center of New York when New York was the center of it all. The actress Kathleen Turner fairly smolders in one portrait. A rakish Donald Sutherland arches an eyebrow. A young body builder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, makes an appearance.
Mapplethorpe considered himself a perfectionist. He was painstaking in composition and lighting in the studio where he did nearly all of his work. He often took but about 10 images and allowed only those of his own selection to be printed. The face was what he captured. The background often makes no impression at all.
The results are dramatic.
These portraits take their subject, amp it up through Mapplethorpe’s vision, and project it out of the frame with gripping clarity.
He once said that he was “looking for things I’ve never seen before.” These portraits – many of them of personalities we’ve seen in scores of other images – show how he achieved that.
Next month, exhibition curator Gordon Baldwin will conduct a gallery walk at 5:30 and on the 23rd also at 5:30 photographer Brian English, who was Mapplethorpe’s studio assistant, will give a lecture.