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Exhibition

Mapplethorpe and Mannerism: A Curatorial Statement from the Deutsche Guggenheim

 
 


BERLIN, 14 October 2004—Remembered by many for his erotic images, including male and female nudes with sometimes sadomasochistic themes which eventually were the subject of an obscenity trial, Robert Mapplethorpe is now the subject of Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints, an exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim which traces affinities between his photographs, prints by 16th century Mannerist artists, and sculptures from classical antiquity. Female bodybuider Lisa Lyons, dancer Derrick Cross, and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, provided Mapplethorpe the well-muscled bodies that are the subjects of some of the photographs in this exhibition.

The curators—Germano Celant, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, Guggenheim Museum New York, and Arkady Ippolitov, Curator of Italian Prints, State Hermitage St. Petersburg— offered the following statement situating Mapplethorpe vis-à-vis some of his antecedents.

Antoine du Rocher

 

Curatorial Statement

With over one-hundred and twenty objects, this exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim explores the dialogue between the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) and Classical art, in particular late-16th-century Netherlandish (Dutch and Flemish) Mannerist prints through the engravings and woodcuts of Hendrick Goltzius, Jan Harmensz. Muller, Jacob Matham, and Jan Saenredam. A selection of sculptures in the exhibition highlights the dialogue of Mapplethorpe’s photographs and the Mannerist prints with classical Antiquity, further illustrating their compelling relationship and a broader understanding of the history of art.


Mapplethorpe: Thomas, 1987 - Goltzius, Phaeton, Four Disgracers
After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem Phaeton, from The Four Disgracers, 16th century, first state dated 1588 Engraving Diameter: 12 15/16 inches (32.9 cm)
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photo: Yuri Molotkovetz © 2004 State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Robert Mapplethorpe, Thomas, 1987 Gelatin-silver print A.P. 1/2 18 7/8 x 18 7/8 inches (48.1 x 48.1 cm) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin


Deeply rooted in Italian art, Mannerism was an international movement and style which arose after the death of Raphael in 1520 for about one century. Just as it was common for Italian artists to travel throughout Europe, Italy attracted many foreign artists who then created back home their own personal readings of Italian styles past and present. Mannerist printmaking spread to France and the Netherlands, as well as Germany and Prague. But Flemish Mannerist prints were more Italianate by inspiration than directly based on Italian designs, and they mingled naturalism with influences from Hellenistic sculpture.

Mapplethorpe: Ken, Lydia, Tyler - 1985; Goltzius, Graces
Jacob Matham after Hendrick Goltzius The Graces, 16th century Engraving 11 5/16 x 8 1/8 inches (28.8 x 20.7 cm)
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photo: Yuri Molotkovetz © 2004 State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Robert Mapplethorpe: Ken, Lydia, and Tyler, 1985 Gelatin-silver print 16 x 20 inches (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim


Referred to as the "stylish style", Mannerism is characterized by compositional, emotional, and narrative elements that shift from the balance of harmony and equilibrium articulated by the art of the High Renaissance. In order to emphasize torsos and limbs, Mannerist artists often violated classical canons of perfect proportions. Figures were not only nude, but elongated and elaborate in a near vertiginous fashion, indicating the artists’ mastery of anatomy. In some cases the figures were nearly grotesque in their depiction of exaggerated musculature indebted to Michelangelo and his followers, as exemplified particularly with the work of Goltzius. Likewise, the physical distortions underscored the violence, drama, and cruelty of the narrative, though grace, elegance, and wit were important features of the Mannerist aesthetic as reflected in their choice of mythological and allegorical subjects such as the three fates, the five senses, and the seven cardinal virtues.

Mapplethorpe: young Arnold Schwarzenegger; Muller/de Vries, Apollo
Jan Harmensz. Muller after Adriaen de Vries Apollo armed with His Bow for the Battle with Python, 16th century
Engraving 15 1/2 x 11 13/16 inches (39.4 x 30 cm) Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Photo: Jörg Anders copyright © 2004, Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen Berlin

Robert Mapplethorpe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1976 Gelatin-silver print Edition 5/10
13 7/8 x 13 15/16 inches (35.3 x 35.4 cm) Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
copyright © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim

The electric and emotive potency of love and Eros, which informs many of the Mannerist works in the exhibition, is expressed as well in the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, whose sometimes shocking photographs reveal compelling strength and a nervous energy. Passionate about the human body in his creative and sensual quest, Mapplethorpe described photography as "the perfect way to make a sculpture." He looked for perfection in form with every subject he tackled, and his photographs, ripe with sculptural tension, are imbued with an erotic ambiguity. Furthermore, the classical ideal was not only a poetic inspiration for him but also an ethical model that he sought to emulate throughout his short life. Mapplethorpe was trained in painting and sculpture and his early interest focused on the nature of the painterly and sculptural processes. In the late 1960s and early 70s, Mapplethorpe juxtaposed images of neoclassical monuments with those of his own nude body, where the positions of the live figure mimed exactly the positions of the statue.

Mapplethorpe: Ada, 1982; Goltzius, Persephone
Hendrick Goltzius, Persephone (Flora), ca.1594 Chiaroscuro woodcut printed from three blocks:
black, hazel and brown 13 11/16 x 10 5/16 inches (34.5 x 26 cm) State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photo: Yuri Molotkovetz © 2004 State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Robert Mapplethorpe, Ada, 1982 Gelatin-silver print A.P. 1/2 19 1/4 x 15 1/4 inches (48.9 x 38.7 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
copyright © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim

He combined harmonious sculptural excellence with photographic absoluteness, and by uniting historical sculpture with the model Mapplethorpe strove to mirror art in life and art in photography. In this way, he was able to express radical themes in typical historical terms. Partaking of classical naturalism, his compositions are meticulously thought out and reflect a highly detailed perusal of figural gestures, from the Antiquity and perfection of Michelangelo to the elegance of 18th- and 19th-century artists, such as Auguste Rodin, with whom he shared an attraction to Eros and sensuality of chiseled bodies. The vital anatomical forms of his portraits, such as the female bodybuilder Lisa Lyons and the statuesque dancer Derrick Cross, find their roots in Antiquity, and here find their mirror in the highly expressive and sculptural 16th-century prints of Jan Harmensz. Muller’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and Jacob Matham’s muscled and dynamic Apollo in the Clouds darting through the picture plane. Mapplethorpe’s effective minimal black and white palette, through which he explored paradoxes and relationships, expresses a certain poetic and melancholy quality, while the Mannerists’s magisterial tours de force are rendered through startling light, texture, and three-dimensionality.

Mapplethorpe: Dancer Derrick Cross; After Michelangelo, Samson conquers Philistines
After Michelangelo Samson conquers two Philistines, 16th century Bronze Height: 14 3/8 inches (36.5 cm)
Skulpturensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Photo Credit: Jörg Anders © 2004, Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen Berlin

Robert Mapplethorpe, Derrick Cross, 1983 Gelatin-silver print A.P. 1/2 19 3/16 x 15 3/8 inches (48.7 x 39.1 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation 96.4369
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin

Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition has been jointly organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, and the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue in German and English, with essays by the curators as well as a contribution by Jennifer Blessing at a price of € 34. The show is on view at the Deutsche Guggenheim until 17 October 2004.

mapplethorpe Lisa Lyon (bodybuilder) Photo 1981 - Matham Diana in Clouds, Hermitage
Jacob Matham after Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem Diana in the Clouds, 16th century
Engraving 12 3/4 x 8 11/16 inches (32.4 x 22 cm) State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photo: Yuri Molotkovetz © 2004 State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyons, 1981 Gelatin-silver print Edition 8/10 19 1/16 x 15 3/16 inches (48.4 x 38.6 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Gift, Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
copyright © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Deutsche Guggenheim

In cooperation with the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, keynote tours devoted to the theme of Mannerism are being offered in the Kupferstichkabinett and in the Gemäldegalerie am Kulturforum with Thomas Hoffmann. More detailed information concerning titles and dates is available at the information desk of the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin.


Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from 1 July to 24 August 2005.

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