Robert Mapplethorpe

Photo: By Robert Mapplethorpe –, Fair use,

Natinality: American

Born: November 4, 1946

Born Place: Floral Park, New York, United States

Died: March 9, 1989

Death Place: New England Deaconess Hospital

On view: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SCAD Museum of Art, George Eastman Museum, Modern Art Oxford.

Gender: Male


Robert Michael Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer, best known for his black-and-white photographs. His work featured an array of subjects, including celebrity portraits, male and female nudes, self-portraits, and still-life images. His most controversial works documented and examined the homosexual male BDSM subculture of New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A 1989 exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, sparked a debate in the United States concerning both use of public funds for “obscene” artwork and the Constitutional limits of free speech in the United States.

Mapplethorpe was born in Floral Park, Queens, New York City, the son of Joan Dorothy (Maxey) and Harry Irving Mapplethorpe, an electrical engineer. He was of English, Irish, and German descent, and grew up as a Catholic in Our Lady of the Snows Parish. He had three brothers and two sisters. One of his brothers, Edward, later worked for him as assistant and became a photographer as well. He studied for a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he majored in Graphic Arts, though he dropped out in 1969 before finishing his degree. Mapplethorpe lived with his girlfriend Patti Smith from 1967 to 1972, and she supported him by working in bookstores. They created art together, and maintained a close friendship throughout Mapplethorpe’s life.

Mapplethorpe took his first photographs in the late 1960s or early 1970s using a Polaroid camera. In 1972, he met art curator Sam Wagstaff, who would become his mentor, lover, patron, and lifetime companion. In the mid-1970s, Wagstaff acquired a Hasselblad medium-format camera and Mapplethorpe began taking photographs of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including artists, composers, and socialites. During this time, he became friends with New Orleans artist George Dureau, whose work had such a profound impact on Mapplethorpe that he restaged many of Dureau’s early photographs. From 1977 until 1980, Mapplethorpe was the lover of writer and Drummer editor Jack Fritscher, who introduced him to the Mineshaft (a members-only BDSM gay leather bar and sex club in Manhattan). Mapplethorpe took many pictures of the Mineshaft and was at one point its official photographer (… “After dinner I go to the Mineshaft.”)

By the 1980s, Mapplethorpe’s subject matter focused on statuesque male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and highly formal portraits of artists and celebrities. Mapplethorpe’s first studio was at 24 Bond Street in Manhattan. In the 1980s, Wagstaff bought a top-floor loft at 35 West 23rd Street for Robert, where he resided, also using it as a photo-shoot studio. He kept the Bond Street loft as his darkroom. In 1988, Mapplethorpe selected Patricia Morrisroe to write his biography, which was based on more than 300 interviews with celebrities, critics, lovers, and Mapplethorpe himself.


Mapplethorpe died on the morning of March 9, 1989 at the age of 42 due to complications from HIV/AIDS, in a Boston, Massachusetts hospital. His body was cremated. His ashes are interred at St. John’s Cemetery, Queens in New York City, at his mother’s grave-site, etched “Maxey”.


Nearly a year before his death, the ailing Mapplethorpe helped found the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc. His vision for the Foundation was that it would be “the appropriate vehicle to protect his work, to advance his creative vision, and to promote the causes he cared about”. Since his death, the Foundation has not only functioned as his official estate and helped promote his work throughout the world, but has also raised and donated millions of dollars to fund medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV infection. The Foundation donated $1 million towards the 1993 establishment of the Robert Mapplethorpe Residence, a six-story townhouse for long-term residential AIDS treatment on East 17th Street in New York City, in partnership with Beth Israel Medical Center. (The residence closed in 2015 citing financial difficulties.)The Foundation also promotes fine art photography at the institutional level. The Foundation helps determine which galleries represent Mapplethorpe’s art. In 2011, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation donated the Robert Mapplethorpe Archive, spanning from 1970 to 1989, to the Getty Research Institute.


  • 1973: Polaroids, Light Gallery, New York.
  • 1977:
    • Flowers, Holly Solomon Gallery, New York.
    • Erotic Pictures, The Kitchen, New York.
    • Portraits, Holly Solomon Gallery, New York.
  • 1978:
    • The Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA. Catalogue with text by Mario Amaya.
    • Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA.
  • 1983
    • Lady, Lisa Lyon, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, 1970–1983, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Traveled to Stills, Edinburgh; Arnolfini, Bristol; Midland Group, Nottingham; and Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. Catalogue with text by Stuart Morgan and Alan Hollinghurst.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Fotografie, Centro di Documentazione di Palazzo Fortuny, Venice. Traveled to Palazzo Delle Cento Finestre, Florence (1984). Catalogue with text by Germano Celant.
  • 1987:
    • Robert Mapplethorpe 1986, Raab Galerie, Berlin; Kicken-Pauseback Galerie, Cologne. Catalogue with interview by Anne Horton.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Obalne galerije, Piran, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia. Catalogue with text by Germano Celant.
  • 1988:
    • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, the Perfect Moment, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Traveled to Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio; and Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Catalogue with text by Janet Kardon, David Joselit, Kay Larson, and Patti Smith.
  • 1992:
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Italy (1992); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1992); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Prato, Italy (1993); Residence of Embassador Negroponte, Manila, Philippines (1993); Museo Pecci Prato, Prato, Italy (1993); Turun Taidemuseo, Turku, Finland (1993); Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels (1993); Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv (1994); Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona (1994); KunstHaus, Wien, Vienna (1994); Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (1995); Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth (1995); City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand (1995); Hayward Gallery, London (1996); Gallery of Photography, Dublin (1996); Museo de Art Moderna, São Paulo(1997); Staatdgalerie, Stuttgart (1997). Catalogue with text by Germano Celant.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Tokyo Teien Museum, Tokyo. Curated by Toshio Shimizu. Traveled to ATM Contemporary Art Gallery, Mito, Japan; The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Japan; Nagoya City Art Museum, Nagoya, Japan; The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, Japan.
  • 1996:
    • Les Autoportraits de Mapplethorpe, Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris.
  • 1997: Robert Mapplethorpe, Mitsukoshi Museum of Art, Shinjuku, Japan. Curated by Richard D. Marshall, Noriko Fuku, and Hiroaki Hayakawa. Traveled to Takashimaya “Grand Hall”, Osaka; Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art, Fukishima; Hokkaido Asahikawa Museum of Art, Asahikawa; Sogo Museum of Art, Yokohama; Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art, Kagawa.
  • 1999: Robert Mapplethorpe, Centre Cultural La Beneficencia, Valencia, Spain.
  • 2002: Robert Mapplethorpe Retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo, Japan. Curated by Toshio Shimizu.
  • 2003: Eye to Eye, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York. Curated by Cindy Sherman.
  • 2004: Pictures, Pictures, Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles. Curated by Catherine Opie.
  • 2005:
    • Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Traveled to Deutsche Guggenheim Museum, Berlin; The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (2005); Moscow House of Photography, Moscow (2005); The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, Las Vegas (2006–2007).
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Curated by David Hockney.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Galeria Fortes Vilaca, São Paulo. Curated by Vik Muniz.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: Tra Antico e Moderno. Un’antologia, Palazzina della Promotrice delle Belle Arti, Turin, Italy. Curated by Germano Celant.
  • 2006: Robert Mapplethorpe, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg. Curated by Robert Wilson.
  • 2008: Mapplethorpe: Polaroids, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Traveled to: Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Chicago (2009); Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (2009).
  • 2009:
    • Sterling Ruby & Robert Mapplethorpe, Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: Perfection in Form, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. Traveled to: Museo de Arte, Lugano (2010).
    • Artist Rooms Tour: Robert Mapplethorpe, Organized by the Tate/ National Galleries of Scotland/Art Fund, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Inverness-shire, UK. 2009. Traveled to: Museums Sheffield, Sheffield, UK (2009); Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, UK (2010).
  • 2010: Robert Mapplethorpe, NRW-Forum Kultur Wirtschaft, Düsseldorf. Traveled to: C/O Berlin, Berlin (2011); Fotografiska, Stockholm (2011); Forma Foundation for Photography, Milan (2011); Ludwig Museum, Budapest (2012).
  • 2011:
    • Robert Mapplethorpe curated by Pedro Almodóvar, Galeria Elvira Gonzalez, Madrid.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: Curated by Sofia Coppola, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens, Greece.
  • 2012:
    • Artist Rooms Scottish Tour: Robert Mapplethorpe, Dunoon Burgh Hall, Dunoon, UK. Traveled to: The Gallery at Linlithgow Burgh Halls, Linlithgow, UK, Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth, UK (2012), Old Gala House, Galashiels, UK (2013).
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.
    • In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe, J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
  • 2014:
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Grand Palais, Paris. Traveled to: Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki (2015).
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: Photographs from the Kinsey Institute Collection, Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, Indiana.
  • 2015: Warhol & Mapplethorpe: Guise & Dolls, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford.
  • 2016:
    • Mapplethorpe + Munch, The Munch Museum, Oslo.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Traveled to: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal,Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2017).
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: On the Edge, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus, Denmark.
    • Teller on Mapplethorpe, Alison Jacques Gallery, London.
  • 2017:
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, a perfectionist, Kunsthal, Rotterdam, Holland.
    • Memento Mori: Robert Mapplethorpe Photographs from the Peter Marino Collection, Chanel Nexus Hall, Tokyo. Traveled to: Kyotographie 2017, Kyoto.
    • Dangerous Art: Queer Show. Haifa Museum of Art. Curated by Svetlana Reingold.
  • 2018:
    • Robert Mapplethorpe, Gladstone Gallery, New York. Curated by Roe Ethridge.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe: Pictures, Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal.
    • Robert Mapplethorpe. Coreografia per una mostra / Choreography for an Exhibition, Madre museum, Naples, Italy. Curated by Laura Valente and Andrea Viliani.
  • 2019:
    • Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. January 25 – July 10, 2019 and July 24, 2019 – January 5, 2020

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 4 July 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

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