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Mapplethorpe in Los Angeles

© Robert Mapplethorpe

We have long been avid fans of the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989). Since attending one of his first major shows at the Robert Miller Gallery in Manhattan during the early 1980s, we’ve been drawn to the beauty and sensuality of his images.

Mapplethorpe’s earliest exhibited work featured his provocative, often sexually explicit, black male nudes. Later, he published the book, Some Women, featuring elegant, celebrity portraits of the opposite sex. Ironically, after his death, it was his typically erotic images of flowers that were most prized by collectors (see his book titled The Complete Flowers). Over the years, his enormous body of work has influenced our own photographic figure studies, still lifes, and portraits of dancers.

The big news now is that The Los Angeles County Museum (www.lacma.org), the Getty Museum (www.getty.edu/museum) and the Getty Research Institute have jointly acquired a treasure trove of works from the Mapplethorpe Foundation, including 2,000 photographic prints encompassing many of Mapplethorpe’s most important images. The total acquisition has been appraised at $38 million. The archive, which will be stored at the Getty Research Institute, also includes 120,000 negatives, 6,000 contact sheets, and a wealth of ephemera and other material.

New exhibitions, currently underway at both the Los Angeles Country Museum and the Getty Museum (through March 24, 2013), display a small sample of the recently acquired work—preludes to a much larger exhibition in 2016 that is planned to be the definitive take on Mapplethorpe. Photography curator at the Los Angeles County Museum, Britt Salvesen, has said, “Photography depicts something real…Mapplethorpe’s work shows its power to entice, and also disturb.”

The photographer’s work is represented in all major museums worldwide. Another great resource is singer Patti Smith’s memoir of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, Just Kids (Harper Collins, 2010), which is a beautifully written account, not only of their relationship, but also of living in Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s (available through Amazon).

For more information about Mapplethorpe, see the museum web sites mentioned above and/or go to the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation (www.mapplethorpe.org).

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