Fine Art Photography Series
Robert Mapplethorpe

Biography of Controversial Contemporary Art Photographer.

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Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89)


Robert Mapplethorpe's Photography
Most Expensive Photo by Mapplethorpe
Other Famous Camera Artists

Best Known Photos

Ken Moody (1983)
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Robert Mapplethorpe (1980)
Controversial camera artist.

Thomas (1987)
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.


For a brief explanation of technical
and historical terms, please see:
Art Photography Glossary.

For a short account of how early
camera technology developed,
see: the History of Photography

Robert Mapplethorpe's Photography

Ranked among the top contemporary artists and arguably one of the most controversial but greatest photographers of the homoerotic scene, Robert Mapplethorpe was the cult camera artist of the 1980s. Although his photography included a wide range of acclaimed still lifes of plants - featuring tulips, orchids, poppies, irises, and lilies, including his celebrated composition Calla Lily (1986, silver print, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York) - he is best known for his controversial male nudes and other photos from the New York "leather scene". These latter photos may be considered by some as a form of contemporary art but a number of art critics have serious reservations about this type of narcissistic, often obscene pictorialism. Others believe that if the Turner Prize can be awarded for flaky so-called "conceptual art", why not call Mapplethorpe's rude photos postmodernist art? Sadly, however, his more orthodox statuesque male and female nudes, delicate plant compositions, and highly formal portraits have been overshadowed by his more controversial works. Furthermore, his December 1988 show The Perfect Moment (curated by Janet Kardon of the Institute of Contemporary Art, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts), triggered a general controversy about the public funding of artworks in America, and ushered in a much more restrictive regime, penalizing other contemporary artists in the process.


Studies art at the Pratt Innstitute in Brooklyn 1963-1969. Initially, graphic art, free collages, costume jewellery, installations. From 1970, becomes involved in photography. Self-taught. First photographs using a Polaroid camera (portraits and self-portraits). 1976 moves to the 2.25 inch square format. Produced portraits of renowned New York artists and intellectuals.

Studies of plants in the style of Die Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) of the 1920s. Devotes himself to the nude, including male models. Rigorously composed studies of the body in the tradition of George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-68) and Horst P Horst (1906-99). 1977, participates in Documenta 6 in Kassel. 1979, first solo exhibition in Europe (Jurka Gallery, Amsterdam). 1980-1983, Lisa Lyon cycle. Films, book projects, exhibitions.

In the 1980s, his close companion and patron Sam Wagstaff gives him $500,000 to purchase the New York apartment where he lives and takes photographs. At the instigation of Wagstaff, he builds up his own photo collection. 1988, establishes the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to support Aids research and photo-art projects. His estate is also with the foundation. 1988, big retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. He dies soon afterwards at the peak of his international acclaim - of Aids. Censorship of Mapplethorpe's The Perfect Moment exhibition, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, marks the beginning of a more restrictive cultural policy in the United States.

For a brief discussion of the aesthetics of contemporary photography, see: Is Photography Art?

Selected Exhibitions

Unless stated all shows are solo events.

1973 NewYork (Light Gallery]
1977 New York (Holly Solomon Gallery)
1978 New York (Robert Miller Gallery - 1979, 1981, 1983, 198S, 1987, 91)
1979 Amsterdam (Jurka Gallery - 1980, 1982, 1988)
1981 Frankfurt am Main (Frankfurter Kunstverein)
1983 Paris (Centre Pompidou)
1988 Amsterdam (Stedelijk Museum)
1989 Paris (Galerie Baudoin Lebon - 1998)
1993 Stockholm (Moderna Museet)
2002 Berlin (Thomas Schulte Gallery - 2004)
2002 Salzburg (Austria) (Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery - 2004, 05, 06, 08)
2004 Berlin (Deutsche Guggenheim)
2004 St.Petersburg (The State Hermitage Museum)
2005 Moscow (Moscow House of Photography)
2005 New York (Guggenheim Museum NYC)
2006 Edinburgh (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art)
2008 New York (Whitney Museum of American Art)

Most Expensive Photo by Mapplethorpe

In October 2006, a Mapplethorpe print of Andy Warhol (1987) was auctioned for $643,200 at Christie's New York, making it the most expensive Mapplethorpe photograph ever sold.

Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe are regularly exhibited in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across America.



Profiles of Other Famous Camera Artists

For early pioneers, see: 19th-Century Photographers. Also, in addition to those mentioned above, here is a short list of the best known camera artists of the 20th century.

Edward Weston (1886-1958) Still lifes
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Street photography
Robert Capa (1913-54) War photography
Irving Penn (1917-2009) Fashion shots
Richard Avedon (1923-2004) Fashion photos
Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007) (b.1934) Photos of factories, towers
Jeff Wall (b.1946) Staged photography
Nan Goldin (b.1953) Feminist camera art
Cindy Sherman (b.1954) Self-portraits
Andreas Gursky (b.1955) Architectural landscapes

• For more about figurative photography, see: Homepage.
• For other forms of camera art, see: Video Art.

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