Friday, September 12, 2008

Robert Mapplethorpe


One in a continuing series of entries about gay male artists and their work

On first glance who wouldn’t say that Robert Mapplethorpe’s work is all about the male nude, and thus the male body? Instead, I would say that our culture gets in the way of our accurate perception of Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre. In fact, if there is such a thing as my thesis statement - that there is this new (or perhaps it’s old) trend in gay male art about gay male vision and its relationship to gay male sexuality – then we must look at Robert Mapplethorpe keeping that possibility in mind. As proof of the possibility, there are those beautifully lit, technically perfect and composed images of flowers. At the same time, there is no denying that Mapplethorpe was about pornographic male images. Very often his men are engorged, and the photographs of well-endowed black men tell of his predilection. I would contend that both types of images are all about Mapplethorpe’s vision, but the second, the male nudes, are also about how his vision relates to his sexuality. His is the self-indulgent eye looking for the erotic subject that stimulates his own sexual desire. Mapplethorpe disproves that my two distinct types of gay male art are distinct. Instead, Robert Mapplethorpe demonstrates that one type is merely subsumed within the other. So, I’m wondering if I haven’t just spent more than a year looking at gay male art and photography through the oculus of a thesis statement that obfuscates rather than clarifies understanding.

*Mapplethorpe, Robert, "Ajitto, 1981." The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation,, viewed 10:00 AM EDT, Friday, September 12, 2008.
This is a copyrighted image though it is believed that use to illustrate an article about Robert Mapplethorpe is acceptable as long as the image is not to be repeated in any other venue.

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