Fortes Vilaça is pleased to present the second solo show of North American artist Robert Mapplethorpe at its gallery. The thirty-three photographs – all in black-and-white and taken between 1979 and 1989 – explore the formal approximations between two strands in Mapplethorpe’s production: photos of nudes and of flowers.
The artworks are hung side by side, interspersing these two photographic genres. The curves of bodybuilder and performer Lisa Lyon, a character constantly portrayed by Mapplethorpe, are reflected in a photograph of a calla lily; a muscular male torso taken from behind, arms and legs splayed, resembles a complex orchid seem from above. The textures and forms in a portrait of singer Patti Smith wrapped up in a white curtain are nearly the same as those in the photograph of a calla lily hung at its side. Rather than evincing explicit sexual appeal, the photographs are evocative of what some critics have affirmed: the fact that “Mapplethorpe has never managed to define the difference between flowers and genitals.”
The artist was obsessive about perfect, balanced and symmetric compositions. A cold studio light coupled with a precise focus and balance among the shadows yields dramatic contrasts. Through photographic framing, Mapplethorpe fragmented the photographed object, transforming human bodies and flowers into sculptural forms.
Perfection in Form, one of the largest posthumous exhibitions ever held featuring the artist’s work, opens on May 26 at the Galleria dell’Accademia of Florence, Italy. Like the show at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, that exhibition also explores the relation between Mapplethorpe’s photographs and forms found in sculpture. In Florence, ninety-one photographs are shown alongside Renaissance sculptures from the institution’s collection, which include Michelangelo’s celebrated David, thus establishing a fertile dialogue between two different artistic languages, and between distant times and cultures.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s artwork is currently recognized and acclaimed worldwide. In 1987, in the US, he created the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, aimed at promoting photography, helping museums to show photographic works, and raising funds for research and combat of AIDS. Since his death in 1989, his work has been the theme of various retrospective exhibitions around the world, including at Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris, Museu Stedelijk, in Amsterdam, and Whitney Museum of American Art and Guggenheim Museum, in New York.