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Robert Mapplethorpe

American  •  1946-1989

Biography

After studying drawing, painting and sculpture at the Pratt Institute in the 1960s, Robert Mapplethorpe began experimenting with photography while living in the notorious Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith. Beginning with Polaroids, he soon moved on to a Hasselblad medium-format camera, which he used to explore aspects of life often only seen behind closed doors.

By the 1980s Mapplethorpe's focus was predominantly in the studio, shooting portraits, flowers and nudes. His depiction of the human form in formal compositions reflects his love of classical sculpture and his groundbreaking marriage of those aesthetics with often challenging subject matter. Mapplethorpe's style is present regardless of subject matter — from erotic nudes to self-portraits and flowers — as he ceaselessly strove for what he called "perfection of form."

Insights

  • Phillips set the highest price for a self-portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe in 2015 with Self Portrait, 1980, selling for $148,410.

  • Phillips sponsored the Los Angeles County Museum's landmark 2016 exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Mediumwhich also had a complementary presentation at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

  • The X, Y and Z Portfolios (1978, 1978 and 1981, respectively) frame Mapplethorpe's artistic oeuvre: X his sadomasochistic imagery, Y floral still lifes and Z nude portraits of African-American men.

  • The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, set up the year before his death, has raised and donated millions of dollars to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV infection.

"I am obsessed with beauty. I want everything to be perfect, and of course it isn't. And that's a tough place to be because you're never satisfied."

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