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In Focus: Exhibition of works by Robert Mapplethorpe opens at the J. Paul Getty Museum
Robert Mapplethorpe, Leatherman #1, 1970. Mixed media print. 24 x 17.2 cm. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Jointly acquired by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946–1989) is one of the best-known and most controversial photographers of the second half of the 20th century. As a tastemaker and provocateur, his highly stylized explorations of gender, race, and sexuality became hallmarks of the period and exerted a powerful influence on his contemporaries. In recognition of the 2011 joint acquisition of Mapplethorpe’s art and archival materials with the Getty Research Institute and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Getty Museum presents In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe, on view October 23, 2012–March 24, 2013 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center.

Containing 23 images that date from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, the Getty’s exhibition features key last of edition prints, rarely shown early unique mixed-media objects, and Polaroids™, as well as a wide range of subject matter including self-portraits, nudes and still lifes.

Before he took up the camera, Mapplethorpe often used pictures he cut out of magazines as collaged elements to explore sexuality and eroticism. In Leatherman #1 (1970), Mapplethorpe alters a fetishistic image and represents it in a shadow box, removing the picture from its original context and elevating it to a homoerotic icon. His early work also reflected the influence of his idol, Andy Warhol, and it is perhaps Warhol’s cover art for the band The Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album featuring a banana that inspired Banana & Keys (1973), a photograph-in-a-box construction. This object marks a transition in Mapplethorpe’s work between his collages and sculpture and his work as a photographer. Much of the tension is contained in the object’s success as a clever trompe l’oeil.

“The mixed-media objects and Polaroid™ snapshots in the exhibition demonstrate the struggle of a budding artist to find his proper medium of expression and develop his aesthetic vision,” said Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “However, the carefully crafted gelatin silver and platinum prints make evident Mapplethorpe’s mature style as well as his eye for prints of the highest quality and beauty.”

As Mapplethorpe committed his focus to photography, he began to explore the subjects to which he would return throughout his career – portraits, self-portraits, and nudes. Photographs that feature these subjects are among his best-known, and continue to influence artists today. One of his earliest celebrity portraits, Patti Smith (1975), was carefully staged by Mapplethorpe and Smith, his lifelong friend. Dressed in men’s clothes and channeling the American entertainer Frank Sinatra, Smith broke radically from the image that women in rock were expected to assume, and embodies the androgyny often found in Mapplethorpe’s photographs.

Mapplethorpe also evoked classical themes in his work, particularly in his nude figure studies. Using the motif of the three graces as depicted by artists from ancient Greece to the 19th century, Ken and Lydia and Tyler (1985) features one female and two male models of different racial backgrounds. Mapplethorpe chose a range of skin tones from light to dark in order to invite new, non-binary interpretations of gender, race and sexual orientation.

Concurrent to the Getty’s exhibition, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will present Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, from October 21, 2012–February 3, 2013. The exhibition presents the 39 black and white photographs that make up the X, Y, and Z Portfolios created by Mapplethorpe and published in 1978, 1978, and 1981, respectively. Taken together, the portfolios summarize his ambitions as a fine-art photographer and contemporary artist.

In 2016, the Getty and LACMA will present large-scale exhibitions of Mapplethorpe’s work that will include additional items from the 2011 acquisition.

Acquired in February 2011, the vast majority of the collection came in the form of a generous gift from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the remainder from funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

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