Robert Mapplethorpe And The Classical Tradition
Essays by Germano Celant, Jennifer Blessing, and Arkady Ippolitov.
Robert Mapplethorpe never concealed his interest in and passion for the human figure in all its sensuous manifestations. His celebrated black-and-white photographs from the later part of the 20th century reveled in the athletic body, the nude body, the exquisite body. This groundbreaking exhibition and its accompanying catalogue explore the relationship between the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and Classical art, in particular through Mannerist engravings and sculpture. The pairing of works is among the first collaborations between the Guggenheim Museum and the State Hermitage Museum. Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition exemplifies the artist's rapport with the elongated and elaborate forms of Mannerist art, namely the study of the human body, highlighting the underlying classicism evident in the clarity and potency of all Mapplethorpe's subjects as well as their explosive energy. The classical ideal was not only a poetic inspiration but also an ethical model and, in his creative quest, Mapplethorpe described photography as "the perfect way to make a sculpture." The potency of love and Eros, which electrifies many of the Mannerist works shown here, is articulated again in the work of Mapplethorpe. The vital anatomical forms of his portraits of models such as bodybuilder Lisa Lyons and the statuesque Derrick Cross find their roots in Antiquity, and here they find their mirror in the likes of Jan Harmensz Muller's Sabine woman and Jacob Matham's Apollo.
The Hermitage's superb collection of Italian painting and sculpture amply illustrates the course of Italian art from the Middle Ages to the 18th century and includes an impressive collection of Mannerist works. Approximately 50 Mannerist works from the Hermitage collection are paired with the same number of works by Mapplethorpe from the Guggenheim's collection, are several Italian, French and Flemish bronze sculptures from the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Essays by the curators are included: Addressing the return to Classicism at the end of the 16th, 19th, and 20th centuries, Arkady Ippolitov discusses the obsession that defines both the work of Mapplethorpe and the Mannerists. Germano Celant's text further explores the influence this 16th-century style had on Mapplethorpe's artistic practice and sensibility, illuminating the artist's interest in the study of pure form as well as allegorical imagery. Articulated in both word and image, the catalogue also traces Mapplethorpe's complex relationship to the history of art more broadly, ranging from Neoclassicism to Surrealism, with comparisons to the work of Jacques-Louis David, Antonio Canova, Auguste Rodin, Man Ray, and more. A third essay by Guggenheim Curator Jennifer Blessing traces allegorical representations in 19th- and 20th-century photography, with references to Mapplethorpe's oeuvre.