Phillip, 1979. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Choreography for an Exhibition

15.12.2018 — 08.04.2019

The Madre museum presents Robert Mapplethorpe. Coreografia per una mostra / Choreography for an Exhibition, a retrospective exhibition curated by Laura Valente and Andrea Viliani, dedicated to the work one of the masters of photography of the 20th century.
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The exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe. Coreografia per una mostra / Choreography for an Exhibition focuses in a completely new way around the intimate performative matrix of Mapplethorpe’s photographic practice, retracing and staging the intrinsic need to represent the erotic and intellectual vibration of the subjects, refusing the impersonal and documentary static nature of the photographic shot. This performative matrix is developed in the concept and in the structure of this exhibition, as a possible comparison between the actions of “photographing” in the studio (in the implication of the author / subject / spectator) and of “performing” on the scene (in the similar implication performer / choreographer / audience).

This exhibition’s “choreography” is then developed into three sections, intimately connected to each other. In the entrance hall and in the two adjoining rooms, as in an Ouverture, that redesigns the space-time dimension of the museum, infusing it with a theatrical inspiration based in the exchange of glances between the two Mapplethorpian muses, one feminine and one masculine, Patti Smith and Samuel Wagstaff Jr.

To follow, in the five opening rooms and in the six final rooms of the exhibition, the audience is introduced directly on the stage of this mise-en-scène for images – among dancers, athletes, body-builders, and models – exploring the performativity of the subject photographed by Mapplethorpe, which the artist captured with meticulous preparation in his studio.

The two rooms that precede and follow the central hall lead the visitors into potential stalls, in which the dynamic of the gaze of dozens of portraits not only gives us an extraordinary personal diary of the life, affections, friendships, meetings, collaborations and commissions of the artist, but at the same time reconstructs, between a private dimension and public sphere, a collective portrait of the society and jet-set of the Seventies and the Eighties. Among the faces of this “living” audience: John Mc Kendry (1975); Arnold Schwarzenegger, Philip Glass with Robert Wilson and David Hockney with Henry Geldzalher (1976); Deborah Harry (1978); Carolina Herrera (1979); Francesca Thyssen (1981); Louise Bourgeois and the Pop Art gallerist Leo Castelli (1982); Doris Saatchi, Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente and Lucio Amelio (1983); Susan Sontag (1984); Norman Mailer (1985), Louise Nevelson (1986), Laurie Anderson (1987); in addition to the images of dancers and choreographers such as Lucinda Childs, Gregory Hines, Bill T. Jones, Molissa Fenley and the dancers of the NYC Ballet.

The central room (third section) – dominated by a red carpet for dancers and a sequence of self-portraits of Mapplethorpe – is transformed into a real three-dimensional theatre, in which, joining all the themes of the exhibition, the performance becomes contemporary and current choreography, in which the artist is protagonist.

To integrate this section, like two retro-scene spaces, two adjoining rooms to the central room: the (Un)Dressing room, a real set up dressing room, where the performers warm up before the performance, which hosts some images that introduce us to vision of the artist, and the X(Dark) Room (forbidden to minors), in which the most secret and extreme works of erotic subjects are exhibited, including a selection of the famous Portfolio X.

The various subjects of Mapplethorpe, even the most controversial ones like the S&M images of Portfolio X, are the protagonists of a staging that reveals continuous and sophisticated references to the history of art, in which archetypes and universal subjects are evoked. The photographic activity occured mainly in the intimacy of the studio of Mapplethorpe, where the artist carefully prepared backgrounds and scenographic elements, along with a rigorous drawing of the lights, to abstract in a “timeless”; the photographed subject.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe was born in November the 4th, 1946 in New York, in an observant Catholic family of Irish descent. His education takes place in the context of protests against the war in Vietnam, student revolts and civil rights, feminist and homosexual rights movements. In 1967 he met the young poet Patti Smith, who will become one of his most photographed subjects between 1970 and 1973. Thanks to the encouragement from the curator of the photographic section of MoMA, John McKendry, from 1970 he began experimenting the use of Polaroid. In 1972 he met the collector and curator Samuel Wagstaff Jr., who in 1975 gave to Mapplethorpe his first Hasselblad camera and contributed substantially to the artist’s affirmation.

In 1973 he held his first personal exhibition, Polaroids, at the Light Gallery in New York. Experiencing different formats and printing techniques, Mapplethorpe documents the New York underground scene. The images produced will be the subject of two exhibitions, collectively titled Pictures, inaugurated in 1977 in two different New York galleries: the Holly Solomon Gallery and The Kitchen Gallery, the second one made of the works that will compose, in 1978, the X Portfolio. In the same year Mapplethorpe creates the Y Portfolio, collection of floral and arboreal subjects, followed in 1981 by his third portfolio, Z Portfolio, a series of nudes featuring African-American subjects.

In 1978 his first personal exhibition in a museum, Photographs, is held at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, while his works are exhibited at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art in the Bondage and Discipline exhibition, and at the La Remise Gallery in Paris, the first personal exhibition in Europe is inaugurated. The recognition of his research at an international level allows the artist to deepen his relationship with intellectuals, writers, entertainment stars and aristocrats of the old continent, which become his reference audience and, at the same time, the commissioners of many portraits. Among the exhibitions of this period there are the personal exhibitions at the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Frankfurt (1981), at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans (1982) and at the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris (1983). In the same year was inaugurated at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, the exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe, photographs, then reproposed at the Palazzo delle Cento Finestre in Florence. In 1984 the exhibition Matrix 80 Robert Mapplethorpe is held at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. After two years followed by the exhibition in Bologna, Palazzo Accursio. In September 1986 Mapplethorpe found out that he had contracted the HIV virus. In 1988 the artist established a foundation for the conservation of his works, to support the photographic creation and the scientific research against the HIV virus. In the same year he inaugurated a traveling exhibition, The Perfect Moment, hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Art-University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Washington Project for the Arts in Washington DC Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, University Art Museum-University of California at Berkeley, Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center and Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. The exhibition arouses fierce polemics. Mapplethorpe died on March the 9th, 1989, and from that year there have been several exhibitions dedicated to the artist by the most important international museums.

In 1992 the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf brought together the works of Mapplethorpe and those of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The comparison will be presented again in 2014 by the Mapplethorpe-Rodin exhibition at the Musée Rodin in Paris. In 2000 The Perfect Moment was presented again at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in California, while in 2004 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg presented Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints. In 2009 in the exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe, Perfection in the Form (2009) at the Accademia Gallery in Florence, the photographer’s images are compared with the masterpieces of the Florentine art. Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, presented in 2012 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is dedicated to the three portfolios of the artist. In 2016 Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium is inaugurated, an important retrospective exhibition that takes up the title Perfect Moment.