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Art

Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ

By Susannah Tantemsapya

December 18, 2012

A selection of Robert Mapplethorpe’s X, Y and Z Portfolios are at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) through March 24, 2013.

This exhibition highlights his three most important themes: homosexual sadomasochistic scenes (X, 1978), flower still lifes (Y, 1978) and portraits of African-American men (Z, 1981). All photographs are gelatin silver prints displayed “in three rows all in one mass” to exemplify Mapplethorpe’s obsession with “perfection in form.”

No stranger to controversy and censorship, Mapplethorpe’s portfolios resulted in obscenity charges and a high profile trial in the late 1980s. Although the case ended in acquittal, the debate about his sexually explicit work continues.

His mastery of the photographic medium is hard to argue against. The juxtaposition of his work is riveting, phallic in both its literal and metaphorical nature.

LACMA is exhibiting XYZ in tandem with In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe at Getty Museum. This is the first presentation of Mapplethorpe’s work since the landmark joint acquisition by LACMA, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and The Getty Research Institute in 2011. This collection includes over 1,900 editioned prints and over 1,000 non-editioned prints, 200 unique mixed-media objects, over 160 Polaroids, 120,000 negatives, and extensive working materials, ephemera, and documents.

A younger generation recently discovered Mapplethorpe’s legacy in Patti Smtih’s autobiographical Just Kids (2010). Now both new and established audiences can look forward to a larger Mapplethorpe retrospective, jointly organized by LACMA and the Getty, planned for 2016.

Getty MuseumLACMARobert MapplethropeXYZ Portfolio

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