Mapplethorpe, a body of scandal
Dominates the Paris art calendar this spring with two landmark exhibitions. Judith Benhamou–Huet, art critic, and writer Arthur Dreyfus fathom the mystery of an unwittingly scandalous artist on a perpetual journey between good and evil.
— “I like these photos for their classic simplicity, and also for the way he looked for beauty in everything,” declared film–maker Sofia Coppola, who in 2011 curated a Mapplethorpe exhibition at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris. Three years later this foremost American photographer, who died in 1989, returns with ever greater force in an exhibition of more than two hundred of his works at the Grand Palais in Paris. They document every aspect of his brief but intense career. At the same time, at the Rodin Museum, some one hundred of Mapplethorpe’s photos are being shown in unexpected juxtaposition with pieces by the French sculptor. Both great modern artists worked with classical forms of expression, each with the same attention to detail and each asserting obsessive sexual desire. Within the same framework of black and white in a square format, Mapplethorpe made violent transitions between crude representations of the human body ( including his own ) and still life ( flowers, fruit, marble statuary, etc. ) in a fascinating volumetric of perishable and imperishable forms. Judith Benhamou–Huet, a journalist who specialises in the art market, is co– curator of the exhibition at the Rodin Museum and author of Dans la vie noire et blanche de
Robert Mapplethorpe ( Grasset ). She talked at length with the people who were close to Mapplethorpe — agents, lovers, nighthawks — and who witnessed the highs and lows in the extraordinary career of a middle–class boy who became the darling of Manhattan, who photographed rock stars and artists, flaunted his love of S& M and his fascination with black men, and like an artful dodger picked his way through the web of New York society life. Judith Benhamou–Huet sees Mapplethorpe’s work as being at a crossroads between biographical and conceptual; he spawned the idea of art that reconciles, that takes us unawares yet is immediately appealing, seduces yet retains its mystery. Like Mapplethorpe the man, a devil with an angel’s face.
Self–Portrait, circa 1973.