“WE SAID GOODBYE AND I LEFT THE ROOM. SOMETHING MADE ME GO BACK. HE HAD SLIPPED INTO A LIGHT SLEEP. I STOOD THERE LOOKING AT HIM. SO TRANQUIL, LIKE A VERY OLD CHILD. HE OPENED HIS EYES AND SMILED AT ME. “ARE YOU BACK ALREADY?” THEN HE FELL ASLEEP AGAIN. THE LAST IMAGE I HAD OF HIM WAS THE SAME AS THE FIRST ONE. A YOUNG MAN SLEEPING WRAPPED IN LIGHT, WHO RE-OPENED HIS EYES WITH THE SMILE OF A MAN WHO HAD RECOGNISED THE WOMAN WHO HAD NEVER BEEN A STRANGER TO HIM.”
This is how his lover, accomplice and friend, and subsequently muse Patti Smith remembers him in her book Just Kids.
The exhibition dedicated to this artist, which can be visited from 26 March to 13 July 2014 at the Gran Palais (grandpalais.fr) in Paris, presents over 250 works of art. This make it one of the biggest retrospectives ever organised on him within a museum.
The whole of Mapplethorpe’s career as a photographer, from the Polaroids of the early 1970s to the portraits at the end of 1980, is narrated here, moving from statuesque nudes and still lifes to the intimate aspects of sado-masochism.
The theme of femininity is instead explored thaks to the attention and care dedicated to his two muses Patti Smith and Lisa Lyon, an American bodybuilder.
The challenge that this exhibition sets itself is to show Mapplethorpe as a great classical artist, who addressed issues in art using photography as he might have used scuplture.
In an interview in 1987, Robert explained that photography was the perfect medium for a fast-paced time, and that he was chosen by it, and not the other way round. (…).“If I had been born one hundred or two hundred years ago, I might have been a sculptor, but photography is a very quick way to see, to make a sculpture. Lisa Lyon reminded me of Michelangelo’s subjects, because he did muscular women.”
The thought thus lingers that Mapplethorpe was an artist before being a photographer and that his images, or rather a large part of them, stem from a pictorial culture which we can find in Titian, Dalì and in some of the great names of the Italian Renaissance, such as Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca, Bernini…
Of course he was libertine, and racy, and narrated the New York socio-cultural context of his time without filters, hence the underground homosexual culture, sado-masochistic subjects and inclinations towards pornography. And yet at the same time he was poetic, with an eye which was able to behold and enhance the beauty of the body within its folds.