“I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today’s existence. I’m trying to pick up on that madness and give it some order” – R.M
Galeri Nev İstanbul is pleased to present the second solo exhibition by the American artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Istanbul.
The quest of this exhibition is to re-contextualize Robert Mapplethorpe by introducing the viewers a new insight through his lesser-known works that reveal the most vital aspects of his art without surrendering the curation to a biographical theme. Hence, the self-portraits, the Polaroids as well as the S&M pictures are deliberately left out of this selection for the latter are among the artist’s least theatrical and most documentary works.
Throughout his career, Mapplethorpe was driven by the urge of emphasizing sculptural and pictoral qualities in his work. Hugely influenced by the trailblazer of photography, Nadar in addition to the “Photo-Seccessionists” like Stieglitz, Day and Steichen, Mapplethorpe’s apprehension of photography evolved towards a classical formality in the early 1970s. Correspondingly, Mapplethorpe has renounced improvisation towards 1975 as soon as he’s stopped making use of Polaroids and took up the Hasselblad 500 which compelled him to work slower, constraining him to the square frame in his viewfinder.
In these simplistic compositions prevail a grand temperance and an obsessive care in the forms. The essence he brings to light entails the refusal of superfluous to the extent of subordinating the realist reproduction. In Susan Sontag’s words, Mapplethorpe’s work is “not the truth about something, but the strongest version of it”1. The narrative aspect of photography is completely subdued and form itself becomes the ultimate priority.
Mapplethorpe’s absolute control over light and movement are crucial factors in his process. Chiaroscuro variations add a volumetric mass to the geometric forms while the immobility of them further enhance the sculptural effect. Despite their suspension in time, each final image is the result of long, painstaking mise-en-scène, a pre-meditated halt that eliminates all coincidence.
His fascination with statuary is epitomized through the bodybuilders he photographed over the years. The reason he took an interest in these bodies was different than his early pornographical work, a reason more related to the discipline, something that was very fundamental in his own artistic endeavour. The black males whose bodies are seemingly immune against death or decay allow a new terrain of formal eroticism.
Having worked with photographic cut-outs earlier in his carreer, Mapplethorpe has intrinsically inclined to an aesthetic of fragments. This propensity is especially evident in his body parts, where an amputating crop enabled him to investigate the image as detailed as possible while stripping them from their physical and emotional substance. However, they’re never anonymously “Untitled”. Seen as a deliberate work of art, the fragment for Mapplethorpe is as perfect as the traditionally complete image. In a sense, it is no different than Michelengelo or any other old master’s “study for…” with pen and ink.
The viewers often perceive an affinity between his different subjects, like flowers and body parts including explicit sexual compositions. Photographing sex forthright, Mapplethorpe does not depend on allegories to evoke the idea. This reaffirms the fact that such affinities exist merely because it’s purely the form he’s after, and not the symbols they carry. What binds the objects visually is his eye and his consistent approach.
The ever-recurring theme of duality in Mapplethorpe’s work is the very nature of his times. The good and bad, light and shadow, past and present, masculine and feminine. A freedom from barriers is his pursuit. Utterly contemporary in his context, Mapplethorpe aspires a beauty that is eternal.
Robert Mapplethorpe was born in Floral Park, Queens, USA in 1946. He earned a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he started producing artworks in a variety of media collages. Mainly because he required photographic imagery in these early works, he started using a Polaroid camera in the mid-1970s and gradually shifted towards photography as his main medium. During the 1970s, his photography bears the mark of his personal life intertwined very much with the pre-AIDS underground lifestyles in New York. In the early 1980s, Mapplethorpe’s photography begins to attain a more formal, classical style with which he is usually associated. A year before his passing, in 1988 The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective. The same year, the artist established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to represent his work while supporting medical research for HIV treatments.