About the Photographer
Let's face it, most photographers are living their lives vicariously by taking pictures.
— Robert Mapplethorpe
Risqué and unexpected, Mapplethorpe's works deal not only with the exploration of sexuality as self-image in the late twentieth century but also the contradictions inherent in the classical depiction of the human form. Though infamous in the 1980s for his nude studies that seemed to straddle the fine line between art and pornography, Robert Mapplethorpe also spent a significant portion of his career creating self-portraits and traditional floral still-lifes. Yet Mapplethorpe is remembered by many for being at the center of the 1989 National Endowment for the Arts controversy over the funding and exhibition of art that challenged the accepted social mores of the time (along with artist Andres Serrano). Arguably, Mapplethorpe and his art are best understood in these historic terms: after all, many artists have led lives on the edge of social acceptability and have chosen to reflect this reality in their artwork. Mapplethorpe, however, is also recognized for his aesthetic accomplishments, which include a type of highly stylized image that sleekly packages a quite personal and intimate vision. The evolution of this vision, which cannot be divorced from Mapplethorpe's homosexuality, can be traced from his earliest experiments with Polaroid photography to his more elaborate studio portraits, still lifes and nudes.
Born in 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe was raised in Long Island, New York. He was educated as a painter and sculptor, receiving a BFA from the Pratt Institute in New York in 1970. Mapplethorpe exhibited widely, including shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the National Portrait Gallery, London; and the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. His works are included in the permanent collections at the Guggenheim Collection, New York; the California Museum of Photography; and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, among others. Mapplethorpe died in 1989.