“I never liked photography. Not for the sake of photography. I like the object.”
Rigorously flawless, radically focused—the still-lifes and portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe are quiet, formally consummate compositions set in an atmosphere of clinical purity. Movements are harmonized down to the last detail; flawless bodies turn into landscapes; and explicitly sexual acts and nakedness become cool, almost de-eroticized studies of the body, in which technical perfection takes the foreground. This extreme aestheticism strips the content of its severity. It isolates the essentials and opens them up to view. It is precisely this concentration and objectivity that imbues his photographs with a freshness and relevance to this day.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs are based on the norms and standards of the traditional canon of Western sculpture. In his still, calm portraits and pictures of muscular masculine bodies, sexual experimentation, and simple flowers, he draws from the repertoire of art history, positioning them precisely under the severe lighting of the studio. The body becomes an object; individuality yields to the surface and the pose, citing sculpture from classical antiquity and the Renaissance.
In this retrospective of his work, C/O Berlin presents 187 photos from the career of Robert Mapplethorpe. The exhibition focuses on the development of his photographic work, represented by examples from the early Polaroids up to the later still-lifes and portraits of Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, and Patti Smith. From this work it also becomes clear that the scandalous aura surrounding his photographs can only be understood as an aspect of its historical setting, and is thus entirely a matter of the viewer’s interpretation.
The exhibition draws from the collection of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York and is being organized in cooperation with the NRW Forum in Dusseldorf.