Robert Mapplethorpe – Philippe Guillaume

[Spring-Summer 2017]

Robert Mapplethorpe, Thomas, 1986, gelatin silver print, 61 × 50 cm, MMFA, gift of Guy Joussemet, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Thomas, 1986, gelatin silver print, 61 × 50 cm, MMFA, gift of Guy Joussemet, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Focus Perfection
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
September 10, 2016, to January 15, 2017

by Philippe Guillaume

[Excerpt]
The Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition Focus Perfection, which opened last fall at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was a lavish retrospective dedicated to the controversial New York artist who took up photography in 1970 with a borrowed Polaroid camera. Three decades after Mapplethorpe’s first retrospective show, The Perfect Moment, held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988, the MMFA’s neoclassical pavilion provides a perfect setting for the photographs by an artist whose fascination with the Euclidian form and the classical dominates and whose subject matter remains provocative, even in the age of cyberporn. The visitor climbing the museum’s Vermont marble central stairs was immediately faced with an imposing deadpan self-portrait: Mapplethorpe’s chiselled and perfectly groomed rock-star gaze dominates the hall entrance. Certainly, this was a spectacular way to initiate an exhibition of works by one of the best-known photographers of the second half of the twentieth century, who, self-avowedly, was obsessed with leaving a towering legacy in the realm of high art. Indeed, art-history critic Douglas Crimp sees Mapplethorpe’s work as a “modernist appropriation of style”1 that “continues the tradition of museum art.”2 His death in 1989, following a battle with AIDS, contributed to public awareness of the disease…

1 Douglas Crimp, On the Museum’s Ruins (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1993), 6.
2 Ibid.

 
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