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Los Angeles County Museum of Art opens Mapplethorpe. XYZ

TheLos Angeles County Museum of Art presents Mapplethorpe. XYZ an exhibition of three portfolios created by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989). On view October 21, 2012–March 24, 2013.

Robert Mapplethorpe Cedric, N.Y.C., 1978, from X Portfolio, gelatin silver print, jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The J. Paul Getty Trust; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation and The J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

The exhibition, features a total of thirty-nine black-and-white photographs, exploring three subject matters: homosexual sadomasochistic imagery (X, published in 1978); flower still lifes (Y, 1978); and nude portraits of African American men (Z, 1981). LACMA’s presentation will showcase the works in three rows—X above, Y in the middle, and Z along the bottom—an idea which was suggested by Mapplethorpe in 1989.

This is the first presentation of Mapplethorpe’s work since last year’s widely publicized joint acquisition by LACMA, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and The Getty Research Institute of Mapplethorpe’s art and archives— including over 1,900 editioned prints and over 1,000 non-editioned prints, 200 unique mixed-media objects, over 160 Polaroids, 120,000 negatives, and extensive working materials, ephemera, and documents. The majority of the acquisition originated as a generous gift from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the remainder of the funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Born in 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe grew up in the suburban area of Floral Park, Queens. As a student at the Pratt Institute in New York, he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture and experimented with various materials in mixed-media collages. When Mapplethorpe acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970, he began incorporating his own photos into his constructions. His first solo gallery exhibition, Polaroids, took place at Light Gallery in New York City in 1973.

Two years later he transitioned from the Polaroid to a Hasselblad medium- format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances. His subjects—artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, and members of the S & M underground—came from a variety of backgrounds.
Mapplethorpe’s interest in documenting the New York S&M scene was strongest in the late 1970s, when he produced photographs with shocking content but remarkable technique and formal mastery. In 1978, the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City became his exclusive dealer. Throughout the 1980s, Mapplethorpe produced images that challenged and adhered to classical aesthetic standards including stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities. He explored and refined different techniques and formats— including color 20” x 24” Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color processes—but gelatin silver printing remained his primary medium.

In 1986, Robert Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted numerous commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989. Beyond the art historical and social significance of his work, his legacy lives on through the work of Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which he established in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art, and to find medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV- related infection.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
323 857-6000