Monday, May 09, 2016

CULTURE WARS - Artist Robert Mapplethorpe

"Seeing Robert Mapplethorpe’s idea of perfection in a new retrospective" PBS NewsHour 5/5/2016


SUMMARY:  Artist Robert Mapplethorpe found himself at the center of the culture wars of the 1980s and ‘90s for his best-known work, homoerotic and often explicit photographs that drew the ire of federal lawmakers.  Now two major Los Angeles museums have mounted a retrospective of his work, asking viewers to take another look.  Jeffrey Brown examines the artist’s life and legacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):   Now, looking back and looking anew at an artist at the center of the so-called “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s.

Jeffrey Brown reports from Los Angeles.


JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  'Take another look;' that’s the invitation from two Los Angeles museums, together presenting a major retrospective of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Mapplethorpe was best known for his homo-erotic photographs and explicit sadomasochistic imagery, and the political and legal battles around them.

Even now, we’ve chosen not to present his most controversial work.  But the new exhibition, “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium”, wants us to see how much more there was to the artist.

BRITT SALVESEN, Los Angeles County Museum of Art:  This gallery gets us to the 1980s —

JEFFREY BROWN:  Britt Salvesen is a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

BRITT SALVESEN:   For several years after the culture wars debate of the late ’80s, early ’90s, it was impossible to see the work as art because we were preoccupied with its status as evidence, let’s say.

JEFFREY BROWN:  As part of that culture war.

BRITT SALVESEN:  Yes.  And that really forestalled an assessment of his artwork.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Mapplethorpe grew up in a conservative Irish Catholic household in Queens, New York, and in the 1970s became part of the city’s burgeoning gay scene.  He focused from the beginning on three main subjects: portraiture, including artists and celebrities of the day, floral still lifes, and sex and the body.

BRITT SALVESEN:  Those are very traditional art historical subjects, I mean long before photography.  So the question becomes, how do you make them your own?   And I think Mapplethorpe does it through a refinement, a reduction of extraneous elements.  His sense of perfection and beauty is what he applies to those traditional subjects.

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