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Robbert Mapplethorpe
Mapplethorpe - von Gloeden. Beauty and Desire

23 September 2023—6 March 2024
Museo Novecento, Florence, Italy

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The Museo Novecento pays tribute to one of the greatest exponents of twentieth-century photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (New York, 1946 – Boston, 1989), through an unprecedented comparison with the shots of Wilhelm von Gloeden (Wismar, 1856 – Taormina, 1931) and some of the Fratelli Alinari images: an evocative and at times timely comparison, revealing the recurrence of common themes; motifs that traverse time and come down to us, posing as food for thought on current events and how art, morality and spirituality change and evolve in their mutual relationship.

The exhibition, organized forty years after the Palazzo delle Cento Finestre exhibition that introduced the American photographer’s work to Florence, highlights Robert Mapplethorpe’s connection to classicism, as well as his sculptural approach to the photographic medium. A deep interest in antiquity, a passion for the masters who came before him and a careful understanding of statuary (particularly the work of Michelangelo) are constants in the artist’s research.

An avid collector of photographs, Mapplethorpe became acquainted with the work of Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, with whom he may also have had the opportunity to engage extensively in the early 1980s, thanks to his contacts with gallery owner Lucio Amelio and a stay in Naples, during which he also measured himself against the disarming power of ruins. Von Gloeden, among the pioneers of staged photography, celebrates in his compositions an ideal reference to the past, conceived as an inexhaustible reservoir of subjects and suggestions: a unique stylistic mark, which still makes him an icon and constitutes an evocative reference for Mapplethorpe.

Mapplethorpe’s and von Gloeden’s photographs, while drawing inspiration from the canons of classicism, seem to lead along aesthetic trajectories that are not obvious and at times perturbing, raising and resolving questions about the subject of the body and sexuality whose echoes resonate, at times unchanged, in contemporary visual culture, where censorship and moral judgment are always ready to indict beauty and desire.