Robert Mapplethorpe - PHOTOGRAPHS New York Thursday, October 16, 2008 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Literature

    St. Martin's Press, Lady: Lisa Lyon, p. 55

  • Catalogue Essay

    “His eye for a face is the eye of a novelist in search of a character; his eye for a body that of a classical sculptor in search of an ‘ideal’.” -Bruce Chatwin, “An Eye and Some Body,” Lady Lisa Lyon, p. 9
    In the 1970s, Robert Mapplethorpe entered the art scene by breaking down the boundaries between pornography and fine art photography with his intimate portraits of homosexual subcultures. Later, in the 1980s, he dominated the art scene with his contemporary approach to traditional subjects such as the floral still-life and the ideal nude form. At the point of transition between these two distinct themes, Mapplethorpe produced Lady Lisa Lyon, a series of portraits of the pioneering American 1970s female bodybuilder. In it, Mapplethorpe combines the social commentary of his early portraits with the classical aesthetic that defines his later works producing a body of images that highlight the contrast and contradiction that is Lisa Lyon.
    The project began in 1980 as a joint collaboration between Mapplethorpe and 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 seductive nude emerging from the water to the dominatrix in tight, black leather with a whip to the female bodybuilder working out. Every detail of each character was carefully decided by Mapplethorpe and Lyon with only their imagination as a limit. As Sam Wagstaff explains in his foreward to Lady Lisa Lyon:
    Without Ms. Lyon’s historic abilities for sass, spoof, impersonation, improvisation, parody caricature, and charade, their joint picaresque novella might not be the ‘dance to a constantly surprising refrain’ is seems to me to be.
    Often interpreted as a series of narratives, the images can be seen as a transformation of characters from good to bad, passive to aggressive, female to male (Joselit, Robert Mapplethorpe’s Poses, p. 20) with isolated elements of light-hearted humor. But what is perhaps more important than the idea of a narrative are the individual juxtapositions seen throughout which strengthens the notion of dichotomy: black and white, leather and lace, suits and lingerie. In each photograph, Lyon convinces the viewer to believe and accept her new identity and in doing so to question what is truth. Can she be the epitome of femininity, the fashion model in couture clothing, yet also exist in the male-oriented world of bodybuilding? Can she be both the innocent child in costume riding a pony and the nude with a gun threatening to take her own life? For if she can, how can the sexual and social clichés that exist persist? This questioning of truth and identity was likely their intent as one sees throughout Mapplethorpe’s photography an emphasis on the shifting nature of gender and reality. Moreover, the fact that Lyon is often photographed at eye level with Mapplethorpe, the two literally seeing eye to eye, reinforces their shared commitment to and intention for the project.
    But as much as these characters suggest 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. 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)
    Please note that the remainder of this collection will be sold in future Photographs auctions at Phillips de Pury & Company in New York and London.

  • 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.
19 1/8 x 15 1/4 in. (48.6 x 38.7 cm).
Signed, dated in ink and copyright credit reproduction limitation stamp on the reverse of the flush-mount. Number AP1 from an edition of 10 plus 2 artist's proofs.

$6,000 - 8,000 

Sold for $11,250


16 Oct 2008, 10am & 2pm
New York