Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2011.30.400)
The Mapplethorpe show is called “The Perfect Medium”, in reference to what he thought about photography. His photographic self-portraits are as iconic as the image of the white-haired man, instigator of the populist art, built around soup and Brillo boxes. This self-portrait is mostly unknown, but all the more striking in its simplicity. Fluidity and robustness of line meet with vivid color. The eye is green; the expression lines are red and brown. Green is cold; red and brown are warm. Are we invited to join him in celebrating life? Where is the other eye?
For all the sinuosity of the lines — curves are suggested even in the absences — the expression itself is static. Mapplethorpe, in a drawing, is staring us down. “Do you mind? Pay attention!”, this face is demanding.
And attention we will all pay, whether we like it or not: LACMA brought together a mix and match of photographs. They are showing not only his most famous portraits (from Patti Smith and Lisa Lyon to Iggy Pop), self-portraits (including the one where he’s joyously having sex with a whip), and S&M explorations of the male nude, but also his less famous, but altogether more striking takes on static subjects. Mapplethorpe, the creator of still-life, color photographs of tulips! Who would have thought?
This image is the result of a very special process: dye imbibition. The alignment of diagonals, balanced by the drooping, heavy flowers. In Composition 101, one is taught to have diagonals ascending from left to right, to induce uplifiting sentiments in one’s viewers. This principle has permeated pop culture by such a degree, that nowadays it’s invoked in Marie Kondo’s tidying principles. The tulips are renegades: they live or die in a slowly turning vortex; they are pretty to look at, but the uplifting arrow is missing. The fullness of the colors and the brightness of the contrast are reminiscent of the fauve era: the tulips are shining, even when the light is nigh to missing. Behind them, neutrality, forgetfulness: the grey of common existence itself.
Here’s more on the show, from LACMA: http://www.lacma.org/mapplethorpe#landing