Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

Day Without Art: Robert Mapplethorpe and His Artistic Shift

Day Without Art - remembering the losses of AIDS in the cultural community each year on December 1December 1, 2012, marks the 24th year that museums and other art organizations have observed Day With(out) Art in order to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic. Although medical advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS have improved the lives of those affected, there is still no cure.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s vibrant career was cut short when he died of AIDS-related complications on March 9, 1989, at the age of 42. In my experience, even the most optimistic artists are unable to keep the pain and sadness of AIDS from occasionally surfacing in their art. Mapplethorpe was no exception. While studying his photographs, I noticed a perceptible shift in the emotional tone of his self-portraits occurred in 1986: the year he was diagnosed with AIDS. In 1988, while the disease wreaked havoc on his body, Mapplethorpe used the camera as a means of taking artistic control over what was happening to him. In doing so, he joined a group of important visual artists such as Keith Haring (died age 31), Felix González-Torres (died age 38), and David Wojnarowicz (died age 37), whose work also addressed the AIDS crisis.

Self-Portrait / Robert Mapplethorpe

Self-Portrait, 1988, Robert Mapplethorpe. Platinum print, 23 1/8 x 19 in. Jointly acquired by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

This photograph shows Mapplethorpe’s face with signs of illness and fixed with an impassive expression. His head appears to be floating, and his hand grips a skull-topped cane, a symbol of his impending death. The simple composition (with elements protruding from a tomb-like darkness) and brutal honesty of the work make this photograph one of Mapplethorpe’s greatest achievements.

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2 Comments

  1. Marie
    Posted December 2, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    What an amazing illusory reference towards the future and past of this famed artist!

  2. Tim
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    So informative and impressive. It was great learning more about this iconic figure.

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      Olympian Census #4: Aphrodite

      Get the stats on your favorite (and not-so-favorite) gods and goddesses on view at the Getty Center.

      Roman name: Venus

      Employment: Goddess of Love and Beauty

      Place of residence: Mount Olympus

      Parents: Born out of sea foam formed when Uranus’s castrated genitals were thrown into the ocean

      Marital status: Married to Hephaestus, the God of Blacksmiths, but had many lovers, both immortal and mortal

      Offspring: Aeneas, Cupid, Eros, Harmonia, Hermaphroditos, and more

      Symbol: Dove, swan, and roses

      Special talent: Being beautiful and sexy could never have been easier for this Greek goddess

      Highlights reel:

      • Zeus knew she was trouble when she walked in (Sorry, Taylor Swift) to Mount Olympus for the first time. So Zeus married Aphrodite to his son Hephaestus (Vulcan), forming the perfect “Beauty and the Beast” couple.
      • When Aphrodite and Persephone, the queen of the underworld, both fell in love with the beautiful mortal boy Adonis, Zeus gave Adonis the choice to live with one goddess for 1/3 of the year and the other for 2/3. Adonis chose to live with Aphrodite longer, only to die young.
      • Aphrodite offered Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman, to Paris, a Trojan prince, to win the Golden Apple from him over Hera and Athena. She just conveniently forgot the fact that Helen was already married. Oops. Hello, Trojan War!

      Olympian Census is a 12-part series profiling gods in art at the Getty Center.

      08/03/15

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