Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ
The X, Y, and Z Portfolios (published in 1978, 1978, and 1981, respectively) by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) summarize Mapplethorpe’s ambitions as a fine-art photographer and contemporary artist, reflecting the tripartite division of his mature work: homosexual sadomasochistic imagery (X); floral still lifes (Y); and nude portraits of African-American men (Z). Mapplethorpe’s work has consistently provoked strong reactions, notably during the so-called Culture Wars of the 1980s. The exhibition is an opportunity to assess Mapplethorpe’s confrontational photographs—with their paradoxical mix of classicizing, austere form and raw, uninhibited content—through three series that defined not only his artistic career, but also a moment in American cultural politics. The exhibition, together with the Getty Museum’s concurrent In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe, celebrates the landmark joint acquisition, in 2011, of the Robert Mapplethorpe Archive by LACMA, the Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute.
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Image: Cedric, N.Y.C., 1978, from X Portfolio, gelatin silver print, jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The J. Paul Getty Trust; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation and The J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
...But the photo is another self. Art so easily becomes a thin veil through which a version of the self, some autobiographical reference—even if it’s miles off—defines oneself. Thus, it has been his—our—the black man’s ego-image search from the very beginning, which up to now has been an unattractive kaleidoscopic merry-go-around. In the procession of time, this has made black self-idealization an existential and perpetual split personality in which the culture at large and “the self” battle for supreme identity.
Robert Mapplethorpe is indelibly a New York artist. His life and career are redolent of the history of New York City at a crucial moment in its art and cultural history—a context so eloquently drawn in Patti Smith’s 2010 bestseller Just Kids...