Robert Mapplethorpe - Photographs New York Saturday, November 14, 2009 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Literature

    St. Martin's Press, Lady: Lisa Lyon, p. 91

  • Catalogue Essay

    Lady Lisa Lyon, a series of portraits of the pioneering American bodybuilder, began in 1980 as a joint collaboration between Robert Mapplethorpe and Lisa Lyon. Shortly after winning the First World Women’s Bodybuilding Championship in 1979, Lyon retired from the sport, seeing herself more as a performance artist than an athlete, “a sculptor whose raw material was her own body” (Chatwin, p. 11). At the same time, Mapplethorpe was beginning to broaden his circle of subjects and, with Lyon, came a personality very similar to his own; a person willing to transform herself in every way for her art, just as Mapplethorpe transformed himself in his numerous self-portraits. But most importantly with Lyon came the ideal form that he was constantly yearning to photograph and the opportunity to address themes of androgyny, classicism, erotica and the exploration of American subculture.
    From the day they met to Mapplethorpe’s untimely death in 1989, their relationship transcended that of a photographer and his sitter. They were compatriots on a shared journey examining representations of women throughout the history of photography and the history of art all whilst challenging their own fears and obstacles. Whereas Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre is largely dominated by an emphasis on and examination of male anatomy, the one-hundred and twelve images that constitute Lady Lisa Lyon are unique in their exclusive focus on the female form. They depict Lyon as a range of characters in an array of poses from the seductress on her knees to the fashionista in couture clothing. Every detail of each character was carefully decided by Mapplethorpe and Lyon with only their imagination as a limit.
    While these characters certainly attest to Mapplethorpe’s interest in role-playing and the transformation of identity, they are also a study of and homage to one woman, one body that has reached the level of ideal physical perfection. Mapplethorpe highlights this so well when he deconstructs her form to its individual parts such as her torso as seen in Lot 9 or her leg in Lot 2.
    Just as Mapplethorpe’s photographs of sadomasochism gave mainstream attention to previously unseen aspects of the homosexual community, beyond Lyon herself, these images highlight the small community of female bodybuilders that in the 1980s seemed to many to exist somewhere in the space between male and female. They present a female form unlike so many of the era; a classical form that, like Michelangelo’s figures, merges feminine curves with masculine musculature. A form that allowed Lyon and Mapplethorpe to together deconstruct the female stereotype all whilst ‘glorifying the human body.’ (Chatwin, p. 14)
    Lots 1 - 12 continue our sale of Photographs from the Collection of Lisa Lyon. 

  • Artist Biography

    Robert Mapplethorpe

    American • 1946 - 1989

    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."

    View More Works



Lisa Lyon

Gelatin silver print.
15 1/8 x 15 3/8 in. (38.4 x 39.1 cm).
Signed, dated and numbered AP 1/2 in ink in the margin; signed, dated in ink and copyright credit reproduction limitation stamp on the reverse of the flush-mount. One from an edition of 10 plus 2 artist's proofs.

$4,000 - 6,000 

Sold for $5,000


14 Nov 2009
New York