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Mapplethorpe was born in the Floral Park neighborhood of Queens, New York, the son of Joan Dorothy (Maxey) and Harry Irving Mapplethorpe, an electrical engineer.[1] He was of English, Irish, and German descent, and grew up as a Catholic in Our Lady of the Snows Parish. Mapplethorpe attended Martin Van Buren High School, graduating in 1963.[2] He had three brothers and two sisters. One of his brothers, Edward, later worked for him as an assistant and became a photographer as well.[3] He studied for a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he majored in Graphic Arts,[4] though he dropped out in 1969 before finishing his degree.[5]


Mapplethorpe took his first photographs in the late 1960s or early 1970s using a Polaroid camera. He also designed and sold his own jewelry, which was worn by Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro.[12][13]


In 1972, Mapplethorpe met art curator Sam Wagstaff, who would become his mentor, lover,[14] patron, and lifetime companion.[15] In the mid-1970s, Wagstaff acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and Mapplethorpe began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including artists, composers, and socialites. During this time, he became friends with New Orleans artist George Dureau, whose work had such a profound impact on Mapplethorpe that he restaged many of Dureau's early photographs. From 1977 until 1980, Mapplethorpe was the lover of writer and Drummer editor Jack Fritscher,[16] who introduced him to the Mineshaft (a members-only BDSM gay leather bar and sex club in Manhattan).[17] Mapplethorpe took many pictures of the Mineshaft and was at one point its official photographer (... "After dinner I go to the Mineshaft."[18][19][20])


By the 1980s, Mapplethorpe's subject matter focused on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and highly formal portraits of artists and celebrities. Mapplethorpe's first studio was at 24 Bond Street in Manhattan. In the 1980s, Wagstaff bought a top-floor loft at 35 West 23rd Street for Robert, where he resided, also using it as a photo-shoot studio.[21] He kept the Bond Street loft as his darkroom. In 1988, Mapplethorpe selected Patricia Morrisroe to write his biography, which was based on more than 300 interviews with celebrities, critics, lovers, and Mapplethorpe himself.[21]


Mapplethorpe died at the age of 42 due to complications from HIV/AIDS in a Boston hospital on March 9, 1989. His body was cremated. His ashes are interred at St. John's Cemetery, Queens in New York City, at his mother's grave-site, etched "Maxey".[22]


Nearly a year before his death, the ailing Mapplethorpe helped found the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc. His vision for the Foundation was that it would be "the appropriate vehicle to protect his work, to advance his creative vision, and to promote the causes he cared about".[23] Since his death, the Foundation has not only functioned as his official estate and helped promote his work throughout the world, but has also raised and donated millions of dollars to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV infection. In 1991 the Foundation received the Large Nonprofit Organization of the Year award as part of the Pantheon of Leather Awards.[24] The Foundation donated $1 million towards the 1993 establishment of the Robert Mapplethorpe Residence, a six-story townhouse for long-term residential AIDS treatment on East 17th Street in New York City, in partnership with Beth Israel Medical Center.[25] The residence closed in 2015 citing financial difficulties.[26] The Foundation also promotes fine art photography at the institutional level.[23] The Foundation helps determine which galleries represent Mapplethorpe's art.[27][28] In 2011, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation donated the Robert Mapplethorpe Archive, spanning from 1970 to 1989, to the Getty Research Institute.[29]


Mapplethorpe worked primarily in a studio, and almost exclusively in black and white, with the exception of some of his later work and his final exhibit "New Colors". His body of work features a wide range of subjects and the greater part of his work is on erotic imagery. He would refer to some of his own work as pornographic,[21] with the aim of arousing the viewer, but which could also be regarded as high art.[30] His erotic art explored a wide range of sexual subjects, depicting the BDSM subculture of New York in the 1970s, portrayals of black male nudes, and classical nudes of female bodybuilders.[30] One of the black models he worked with regularly was Derrick Cross, whose pose for the self-titled image in 1983 has been compared to the Farnese Hercules.[31] Mapplethorpe was a participant observer for much of his erotic photography, participating in the sexual acts which he was photographing and engaging his models sexually.[30]


Other subjects included flowers, especially orchids and calla lilies, children, statues, and celebrities and other artists, including Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Deborah Harry, Kathy Acker, Richard Gere, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, Amanda Lear, Laurie Anderson, Iggy Pop, Philip Glass, David Hockney, Cindy Sherman, Joan Armatrading, and Patti Smith. Smith was a longtime roommate of Mapplethorpe and a frequent subject in his photography, including a stark, iconic photograph that appears on the cover of Smith's first album, Horses.[32] His work often made reference to religious or classical imagery, such as a 1975 portrait of Patti Smith[33] from 1986 which recalls Albrecht Dürer's 1500 self-portrait. Between 1980 and 1983, Mapplethorpe created over 150 photographs of bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, culminating in the 1983 photobook Lady, Lisa Lyon, published by Viking Press and with text by Bruce Chatwin.


Robert took areas of dark human consent and made them into art. He worked without apology, investing the homosexual with grandeur, masculinity, and enviable nobility. Without affectation, he created a presence that was wholly male without sacrificing feminine grace. He was not looking to make a political statement or an announcement of his evolving sexual persuasion. He was presenting something new, something not seen or explored as he saw and explored it. Robert sought to elevate aspects of male experience, to imbue homosexuality with mysticism. As Cocteau said of a Genet poem, "His obscenity is never obscene."


In the summer of 1989, a traveling solo exhibit by Mapplethorpe brought national attention to the issues of public funding for the arts, as well as questions of censorship and the obscene. The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., had agreed to be one of the host museums for the tour. Mapplethorpe decided to show his latest series that he explored shortly before his death. Titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, the show included photographs from his X Portfolio, which featured images of urophagia, gay BDSM and a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted in his anus.[35] It also featured photos of two children with exposed genitals.[36][37] The show was curated by Janet Kardon of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA).[38][39] The ICA was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support Mapplethorpe's exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The Corcoran cancelled the show, terminating its contract with the ICA, because it did not want to get involved in the political issues that it raised, but instead the gallery was pulled into the controversy, which "intensified the debate waged both in the media and in Congress surrounding the NEA's funding of projects perceived by some individuals...to be inappropriate."[40] The hierarchy of the Corcoran and several members of the United States Congress were upset when the works were revealed to them, due to the homoerotic and sadomasochistic themes of some of the work. Though much of his work throughout his career had been regularly displayed in publicly funded exhibitions, conservative and religious organizations such as the American Family Association seized on this exhibition to vocally oppose government support for what they called "nothing more than the sensational presentation of potentially obscene material."[41]


In June 1989, pop artist Lowell Blair Nesbitt became involved in the censorship issue. Nesbitt, a long-time friend of Mapplethorpe, revealed that he had a $1.5-million bequest to the museum in his will, but publicly promised that if the museum refused to host the exhibition, he would revoke the bequest. The Corcoran refused and Nesbitt bequeathed the money to the Phillips Collection instead. After the Corcoran refused the Mapplethorpe exhibition, the underwriters of the exhibition went to the nonprofit Washington Project for the Arts,[42] which showed all the images in its space from July 21 to August 13, 1989, to large crowds.[43][44] In 1990, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, which had also shown the exhibit, and Dennis Barrie, were charged with obscenity; photographs that depicted men in sadomasochistic poses were the basis of charges that the museum and its director had pandered obscenity. They were found not guilty by a jury.[45] 041b061a72


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