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Robert Mapplethorpe became one of the most well known American photographers of the 20th century. He began taking photographs in the 1970s using a Polaroid camera and showed his work for the first time at the Light Gallery, New York, in 1973. In 1976, he purchased a Hasselbald medium-format camera and, working primarily in the studio, began producing large-scale still lifes (of subjects such as lilies and skulls), interiors, nudes, portraits and self-portraits. His studio-based work is notable for its great formal precision. Mapplethorpe also photographed his circle of friends and celebrities, including Patti Smith, and he occasionally produced pictures for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. In the late 1970s, he documented the New York sadomasochistic scene and published the X Portfolio in 1978 (a group of thirteen silver gelatin prints depicting homoerotic and sadomasochistic subjects). In 1988, the inclusion of some of these explicit images in his major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art ignited a fierce public debate in America about censorship and the public funding of the arts. Several series of his photographs were collated into now-famous books, including Lady, Lisa Lyon with Bruce Chatwin (1983), Black Book with Ntozake Shange (1986), 50 New York Artists (1986), Some Women with Joan Didion (1989) and Flowers (1990).

Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946 in Floral Park, Queens, USA and died in 1989 in Boston. His vast, provocative, and powerful body of work has established him as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Today his work can be found in the collections of major museums around the world. His legacy lives on through the work of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation which he established in 1988.

Download Biography Updated 16 June 2016

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Sterling Ruby,
Robert Mapplethorpe
Sterling Ruby/
Robert Mapplethorpe

essay by Ed Schad, exhibition notes by Sterling Ruby, published by Xavier Hufkens, 2010, 64 pages, English

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