Robert Mapplethorpe - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 14, 2020 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Collection of Holly and Horace Solomon, New York
    Collection of Holly Solomon, New York
    Collection of John and Thomas Solomon

  • Exhibited

    Summer Group Show, 1976, Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, June-July 1976
    New Work/New York, 1976, Fine Arts Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles, October 1976
    Robert Mapplethorpe: Portraits, Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, February 1977
    Surrogates/Self-Portraits, Holly Solomon Gallery, December 1977-January 1978
    Robert Mapplethorpe, Whitney Museum of American Art, July-October 1988
    Mapplethorpe, Musee d’Art Contemporain, Pully/Lausanne, Switzerland, November 1991 - March 1992
    The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984, Grey Art Gallery, New York, January – April 2006, and travelling to the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, and Austin Museum of Art, Texas, through 2007
    Hooray for HOLLYwood!, Mixed Greens, New York and Pavel Zoubok, New York, January – February 2014
    Selected Works from the Collection of Holly Solomon: 1968-1981, Marlborough Gallery, London, May – June 2019

  • Literature

    This unique triptych:
    Holly Solomon Gallery: The First Two Years, p. 28
    Whitney Museum of American Art, Robert Mapplethorpe, p. 45
    Getty Research Institute, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Archive, p. 15
    Mixed Greens Gallery and Pavel Zoubok Gallery, Hooray for Hollywood!, n. p.
    White, Altars, p. 58
    Fine Arts Gallery, California State University, New Work/New York, 1976, p. 38
    Taylor, ed., The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974 – 1984, n. p.

    Editioned prints of the right panel:
    Danto, Mapplethorpe, p. 67
    Martineau and Salvesen, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs, p. 33

  • Catalogue Essay

    This unique triptych of legendary gallerist and collector Holly Solomon holds a special place within Robert Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre. It was Solomon who effectively launched the young photographer into the art world of New York City when she included his work in a series of exhibitions at the Holly Solomon Gallery in 1976 and 1977, including two solo shows. It was the culmination of Mapplethorpe’s ambitions at the time to have his work shown at such a prestigious art gallery. Aside from Sam Wagstaff—Mapplethorpe’s devoted benefactor, promoter, and lover—Solomon was arguably the person most responsible for his early success in the art market.

    Solomon appreciated Mapplethorpe’s knowledge of art beyond photography, and admired the sophisticated design sense he employed in presenting his photographs in carefully conceived and expertly crafted mats and frames. Both sensitive and shrewd in all matters relating to art and artists, Solomon saw in Mapplethorpe a great talent with a promising future. She included Mapplethorpe in her Summer Group Show, Animals, and Surrogrates/Self-Portraits exhibitions in 1976 and 1977, and gave him two solo exhibitions, Flowers and Portraits, in 1977. She was also instrumental in organizing the exhibition of his work at Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, in that year. Solomon’s representation of Mapplethorpe marked a decisive step in his early career.

    Holly Solomon was a seminal figure in the advancement of Post-War art, and her name is inextricably linked to the major artists of her day. She began her engagement with the art world as a collector in the early 1960s, gravitating toward Pop and Conceptual Art at an especially formative time, collecting work and developing friendships with Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Dan Flavin, Lucas Samaras, and countless others. As her involvement in the New York City art world deepened she opened her first space at 98 Greene Street in Soho in 1969 along with her husband Horace. Solomon’s Greene Street space, designed by Gordon Matta-Clark, was daringly experimental and captured the freewheeling creativity of the day with exhibitions, film showings, performances, and poetry readings. In 1975, the Holly Solomon Gallery opened at 392 West Broadway where Solomon retained her adventurous spirit and willingness to promote and support artists such as Matta-Clark, Sigmar Polke, Mary Heilmann, Nam June Paik, Laurie Anderson, William Wegman, and members of the Pattern and Decoration movement including Robert Kushner.

    When Solomon first visited Robert Mapplethorpe’s studio in 1976, she was struck by the quality of his portrait work and began to consider representing him. First, though, she felt she had to ‘audition’ him by having him take her portrait. Solomon had had her likeness portrayed by Warhol, Kushner, Roy Lichtenstein, Christo, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Artschwager, among other important artists of the 1960s. Creating a new portrait that would be rated alongside these works posed an intimidating challenge for the young photographer. Mapplethorpe approached the task with quiet purpose, shooting Solomon in her apartment as she reclined on her bed, cigarette in hand. Rather than capturing Solomon in a single static photograph, Mapplethorpe made the inspired choice to portray her in a sequence of three images, thus injecting a narrative into the work that incorporates movement and an elegant, languorous drama that channels Solomon’s background as an actress. Mapplethorpe printed each of the images in different sizes, and the triptych progresses from the horizontal rectangle of the first photograph to the square of the final one. Mapplethorpe then housed the sequence within an elegant frame of his own design, creating this tour-de-force triptych that continues to hold its own with the portraits of Solomon by other greats.

    This triptych has an impressive exhibition history, both early on in Solomon’s gallery and in subsequent decades. Solomon loaned it to the photographer’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1988, held in the twilight of the photographer’s life. While their professional relationship had long since ended by then, this remarkable triptych had pride of place in the exhibition, documenting the early years of Mapplethorpe’s career and his relationship with one of the key art world figures of the twentieth century.

    Solomon retained the portrait in her collection. In an interview with Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe’s biographer, she reflected on the portrait and the experience of being photographed: ‘When I looked at the Mapplethorpe portrait, I saw a woman who’s very comfortable with who she is—someone who’s accepted the theatricality about herself. She’s not a young woman anymore, but she’s accepting of that, too. I thought Robert handled me very well. Unlike painters, photographers must have one great quality, which is the ability to deal with people. Robert understood his “customer.” He was gentle, perceptive, and very smooth. . . I said, “Would you like a show?” And he said, “Yes”’ (Mapplethorpe: A Biography, p. 171).

  • 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."

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Holly Solomon (Three Portraits)

A unique triptych of gelatin silver prints, each flush-mounted and assembled together in the artist-designed frame.
Overall 22 5/8 x 50 5/8 in. (57.5 x 128.6 cm)
Holly Solomon Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art and Grey Art Gallery exhibition labels on the reverse of the frame.

$100,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $125,000

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairwoman, Americas



New York Auction 14 October 2020