Focus: Perfection – Robert Mapplethorpe

This exhibit has been on since September 2016 and is moving towards its end. Make sure you go see it before January 22nd at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

When people think of Robert Mapplethorpe they usually think of his sexual stuff. The photographs of women and mostly men in the nude and his fetish photos. During the 1970s and 80s photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s work was thought to be pornographic. Which cropped up big time during the battle at this point in regards to federal funding for the arts. Today the photos (most, but not all) have lost their shock value and we wonder what was the big fuss all about. Though we can see quite clearly how his portrayal of sex, race and sexuality would be cause for discussion.

focus-perfection-robert-mapplethorpeAs a non-art person you might not think about it, but a lot about what works with this exhibit is the way it is presented to you. This one is done in a very engaging and eye pleasing way. Another difficult aspect of this is that pictures of leather clad men engaging in sex acts or even flaccid penises are not what you usually think of when you think of an art exhibit. What they do accomplish with their set up is very much like what Mapplethorpe himself tried to accomplish in that is plays with expectations.

The exhibit attempts to be as comprehensive as possible without being overwhelming. Easier said than done when you have roughly 250 photos making up the exhibit. It works its way through his entire career which was roughly 20 years. Starts with the very beginning before he even started taking the photos in the style he became known for. His early work involved collages of photos or even things he cut out of magazines. He then moved on to using a Polaroid camera and fooling around with that. It wasn’t until he got a Hasselblad camera that he was able to produce photos with the look he was aiming for.

Tone and definition, if you look beyond the fetish or sexuality, is important for Mapplethorpe.You can especially see that in his photos of flowers (which also take on a somewhat sexual tone). All the photos take on a rather silky or flowing look. They are all lit well. Really allows you to see how masterful he was. How his grasp on technique was complete.

With his work he is striving for perfection while at the same time trying to provoke. He will have a perfectly framed subject technically that will have a male subject in a typically female situation or pose. The continuously turning on its head of sexuality, gender and race is what he is striving for. It is almost like he wants to show that none of the stereotypes are true or should be accepted.

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