Last Sunday we went to see the exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe in the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf. I have to admit that prior to this I never really looked into his work and when I googled some images on the net I found that this could be very interesting. It surely was. When I saw all the nudes and close-ups of penises on the net I thought it to be very awkward. Now having seen them in person (not the penises, just the photos) I feel quite baffled.
Knowing that he actually studied drawing, painting and sculpture before picking up photography is very interesting looking at this body of work. The human (parts of) bodies presented by him are so carefully modeled and lit that they look as if he made them with his own hands, they look sculptured. The way muscles, lines and shapes are emphasized and magnified remind me of the Greek sculpturing where in fact the same was done. This can also be found in the expressions on their faces when photographed; sober and often even apathetic.
The prints are so extremely well executed that in combination with the above even photos of penises, which might come across as erotic, are in no way close to that. They become figures of their own, aesthetic and silent, no longer in the context they are normally surrounded with. I came to like them very much for that reason.
One of the other reasons I like his work; finally nude males instead of (hardly always) erotically presented nude women. Artistic Nude is the most overrated category these days and I advise people sprinkling this term on a regular base to look at this man’s work and think again before using it. But that’s a side note, one which I’ll probably get back to in the future. The images are true stills, they are quiet, delicate and of such perfect technique it’s almost daunting. They are also not erotic, even though some of them depict acts of sexual nature. It’s as if they’ve been keeping a pose for hours until it got perfected before taking the photo. Most photos look like an instant, these images look like indefinite moments in time. I am fascinated.
If you get the chance to visit the show, I advise you to do so. It’s opened until the 15th of August. I hope you enjoyed my writing about it.