The Guillotine: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last - No 28: Robert Mapplethorpe
Sunday 18 July 1999
At first glance, Robert Mapplethorpe would appear to be an exception to the rule in that, even if his work includes celebrity portraiture - Andy Warhol, Patti Smith - he is best-known for his photographs of mostly anonymous sitters. Since his alone is the household name, and since the eclat of his talent is indisputable, surely he has been guaranteed everlasting tenure in posterity?
If it isn't as simple as that, it's because of the nature of his subject- matter. In a word, sex. Like some privileged creditor, sex always takes precedence. A naked penis by Lucian Freud is still primarily (just about) one element in a painting by Lucian Freud; when photographed, by even as brilliant a practitioner as Mapplethorpe, it abruptly reasserts its objective identity as a naked penis. It, rather than the quality of Mapplethorpe's "vision", is what our eyes are drawn to, and it would be absurd to pretend otherwise.
That fact, in itself, need not constitute an obstacle to posthumous fame. But what, for many, is shocking in Mapplethorpe's work is less the nudity as such than the unjudgmental depiction of violent sado-masochistic acts, invariably between males. Shocking, though, for how much longer? When one recalls that, at the turn of the last century, a glimpse of a well- turned ankle, as they used to say, was enough to provoke a sexual frisson, and when one then considers how far along that road we've already travelled, logic dictates that, as the new century unfolds, representations of sex will become graphic to a degree that we cannot currently imagine.
Heaven knows where it will all end - but, wherever it does, it's certain that even the raunchiest of Mapplethorpe's photographs are going to look unutterably tame by comparison.
peopleContenders for Time magazine's Person of the Year are a mixture of the good, the bad and the holy
tvSteven Moffat reveals the actor was dying to take on the role of the Time Lord and says he is excited to see what he will do with the character
sportBayern Munich 2 Manchester City 3: City come from two down to beat reigning European Champions
newsAs the world remembers Mandela the hero, the prison where he spent 27 years seems all the more brutal
arts + ents... and a chance to paint Booker Prize winning author Hilary Mantel
danceUnder Tamara Rojo's inspired direction, it seems possible that it could challenge the dominance of the Royal Ballet. We meet some established names and rising stars
travelDiscover Uruguay's jet-set beach resort, an Atlantic enclave with plenty of art and culture to explore on the side
Arts & Ents blogs
The X Factor winners: Where are they doing now?
Ben Whishaw to play Freddie Mercury in Dexter Fletcher film
Back from the dead? Family Guy's Brian Griffin 'to make a comeback' after fan petition
Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat says Peter Capaldi is NOT Malcolm Tucker
Emma Stone: 'Dating Andrew Garfield makes living in LA a lot less fun'
- 1 It’s shameful that our universities have accepted gender segregation under pressure from the most oppressive religious fanatics
- 2 Sir Ian McKellen hits back at Damian Lewis' 'fruity actor' claims
- 3 Kenyan politician Mike Sonko left red-faced after photoshopping himself next to Nelson Mandela
- 4 Selfie at funeral: Cameron squeezes in on Obama snap at Mandela memorial
- 5 Is Facebook making us forget? Study shows that taking pictures ruin memories
- < Previous
- Next >