Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946–1989) is celebrated for his images of still lifes, and for his dramatic, carefully posed portraits of friends and celebrities, and of sadomasochist circles and other unconventional members of society. Born in Queens, New York, Mapplethorpe attended classes at Parsons School of Design while a teenager, working heavily with collage and mixed media. There he met fellow artist and musician Patti Smith, who posed in some of his earliest portraits of famous figures, and developed his love of photography as a medium separate from his collages. In the late 1960s he worked as a photographer for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. Mapplethorpe began taking Polaroids of his family, friends, and public personalities regularly, and in the later 1970s focused primarily on members of sadomasochist circles. These intimate, sexually charged images brought Mapplethorpe significant critical attention for his images of, in his words, “the unexpected.” Mapplethorpe later did a series on female bodybuilder Lisa Lyons, as well as images of dramatic, classical nudes, carefully composed still lifes, and engaging portraits. In 1986 he was diagnosed with AIDS, and over the next three years continued to photograph fervently while establishing the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, dedicated to supporting photography and AIDS research. He had his first major American retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988, just a year before his death. Mapplethorpe’s work has been exhibited at documenta in Kassel, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, and the Tate Modern in London, among many other institutions.
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