The iconic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) is to have archival material released in a new Getty Research publication. Mapplethorpe challenged the limits of censorship and conformity, combining technical and formal mastery with unexpected, often provocative content that secured his place in history. Mapplethorpe’s artistic vision helped shape the social and cultural fabric of the 1970s and ’80s and, following his death in 1989 from AIDS, informed the political landscape of the 1990s. His photographic works continue to resonate with audiences all over the world.
Throughout his career, Mapplethorpe preserved studio files and art from every period and vein of his production, including student work, jewelry, sculptures, and commercial assignments. The resulting archive is astonishing. With over 400 illustrations, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive (Getty Research Institute, March 2016) surveys a virtually unknown resource that sheds new light on the artist’s motivations, connections, business acumen, and talent as a curator and collector.
The scrapbook style volume opens with an essay by Mapplethorpe’s soul mate, artistic collaborator, and friend Patti Smith entitled “Picturing Robert,” in which Smith reminisces about Mapplethorpe’s life and their relationship since they first met in New York City in 1967. Her essay is followed by an illustration of a handwritten letter penned by Mapplethorpe shortly before his passing entitled “4th Year College, Summer of Love.” This intimate opener sets the book’s personal tone.
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive takes the viewer on a journey that uncovers like never before the artist’s fascinating creative practices, providing a broader context for his iconic images. The book’s illustrations encompass personal correspondence, show invitations and other ephemera, ink on paper works, hand-painted collages and assemblages, and works by other artists that were owned by or otherwise associated with Mapplethorpe or his foundation.
The texts and images trace Mapplethorpe’s history, from his entry into the New York art world, through his years living in Chelsea (including at the legendary Chelsea Hotel), where he showed his work and engaged with the art luminaries of the period. Mapplethorpe’s story is also explored through his relationships with the pivotal people in his life, including his long-time companion, artistic mentor and benefactor, Sam Wagstaff, art dealer Holly Solomon, artist and curator Sandy Daley, among others.
The text takes note of significant moments in Mapplethorpe’s life, such as his transformative visit to the Painterly Photographs show at The Metropolitan of Art in 1973 just days after his first solo show of Polaroids opened at the Light Gallery. It was this event that cemented the artist’s commitment to photography and Polaroids would become his tool for learning his craft. Other images in the book include photographs of his jewelry, samples of his commercial work for magazines from Esquire to Vogue, and an historic ARTnews cover story about the artist (issue: December 1988) featuring one of his floral still lifes with the title “Mapplethorpe: Photography’s Bad Boy.”
This publication is issued on the occasion of the exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium on view at both the J. Paul Getty Museum and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from March 15 and March 20, respectively, through July 31, 2016; at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal from September 10, 2016, through January 15, 2017; and at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, from October 28, 2017, through February 4, 2018.
A companion book to Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive entitled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs by Paul Martineau and Britt Salvesen with essays by Philip Gefter, Jonathan D. Katz, Ryan Linkof, Richard Meyer and Carol Squiers will also publish in March coinciding with the exhibition, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium.
During the run of Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium the Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs will also feature the exhibition The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. This exhibition and accompanying publication of the same name is an opportunity to focus on Wagstaff’s collection and his role as one of the most important patrons and collectors of photography.