Robert Mapplethorpe in East Sussex

Posted by David Ozanich — 23 Sep 2010

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Robert Mapplethorpe fans should make a pilgrimage to East Sussex (UPDATE: which is apparently not in Scotland as I originally posted - oops!) where a special show of his photographs is up at the Towner gallery, which apparently has “striking Le Corbusier-like architecture” (see below and make your own comparisons).

It need not be said that Mapplethorpe is, um, controversial what with the sadomasochistic portraiture that put him on the forefront of transgressive art in the 1970s and 80s. But his supreme talent and thrilling, erotic images continue to put him at the forefront of photography’s canon.

He’s been on my mind lately since the publication of his cohort Patti Smith’s memoir ”Just Kids” detailing their years-long friendship. He took the iconic photo for her debut album “Horses”.
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Anyhow, the Guardian’s Jonathon Jones wrote a very impassioned article about the new show, which runs alongside the Brighton Biennial which we spoke about yesterday regarding Alec Soth. Jones cites the meticulous formal aesthetic (“Mapplethorpe's technical brilliance as a photographer is such as to transform each of his images from a document to a flash of rapture”) and his references to both Caravaggio and Michelangelo, but ultimately the critic responds most deeply to the artist’s nature as a provocateur:

Formal beauty, art-historical echoes - but you could do Mapplethorpe a disservice by trying to make him respectable. ... The brilliance of this selection, from the Artist Rooms collection donated by Anthony d'Offay in 2008, is that it gets us close to the real man, the real artist. It has a rawness and also a humour that often eludes selections made by overly academic curators.

Not many photographers have so ruthlessly expressed a personal vision through the camera.


The show opens to the public this Saturday, September 25th, and runs through the 21st of November. Information is here. A great selection of his portfolio is available at The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

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