Robert Mapplethorpe was an icon of the American avant-garde in the late twentieth century, embodying in his life and art a powerful sense of freedom in all its manifestations – creative, political, personal, sexual. Since his untimely death from an AIDS-related illness in 1989, Mapplethorpe’s presence has continued to be felt across all art forms, his unrepentantly honest and meticulously composed explorations of desire, transgression and identity offering inspiration and challenges to a wide range of visual artists, filmmakers, writers and musicians. Scissor Sisters, one of the preeminent bands to emerge from New York’s art scene in the past decade, last year celebrated Mapplethorpe’s distinctively dark and decadent sensibility by deploying a series of Mapplethorpe’s photographs as the artwork for their most recent album release, as well as the singles from the album and the design concept for the accompanying world tour.
This exhibition brings together the seven Mapplethorpe images chosen by Scissor Sisters, along with other photographs, Polaroids and unique and rarely seen sculptures by the artist, and with the band’s selection of important works by major contemporary artists who have admired or been influenced by Mapplethorpe’s aesthetic and attitude. Uncompromising but life-affirming, Mapplethorpe’s fascination with eroticism and mortality, beauty and liberty produced very contemporary interpretations of universal themes, themes which found articulation through the artist’s exacting gaze upon the harmonic, indeed sculptural, possibilities of the objects and scenarios he encountered. His practice was distinguished by the expression of an outlook that ranged from irreverent to subversive to starkly brutal, through a rigorously disciplined language of formal and tonal composition. This unswerving commitment to the pursuit of ideal form, however unconventionally realised, exemplified a potent trend in contemporary art, where the relationships and tensions between sensuous excess and controlled restraint are made visually manifest.