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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      #ProvenancePeek: Shark Attack!

      Every art object has a story—not only of how it was made, but of how it changed hands over time until it found its current home. That story is provenance.

      This dynamic painting of a 1749 shark attack in Havana, Cuba, by John Singleton Copley was too good to paint only once. The original hangs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A second full-sized version of the painting, which Copley created for himself, was inherited by his son and eventually gifted to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

      The third version (shown here) is slightly reduced in size, with a more vertical composition. It resides in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

      A quick peek into the digitized stock and sales books of art dealer M. Knoedler & Co. at the Getty Research Institute shows the sale of Copley’s masterpiece. It was entered under stock number A3531 in July 1946 and noted as being sold to the Gallery by Robert Lebel, a French writer and art expert. The Knoedler clerk also carefully records the dimensions of the painting—30 ¼ x 36 inches, unframed.

      On the right side of the sales page you’ll find the purchaser listed as none other than the Detroit Institute of Arts. The corresponding sales book page gives the address: Woodward Ave, Detroit, Mich., still the location of the museum.

      Watson and the Shark, 1782, John Singleton Copley. Detroit Institute of Arts

      _______

      #ProvenancePeek is a monthly series by research assistant Kelly Davis peeking into #onthisday provenance finds from the M. Knoedler & Co. archives at the Getty Research Institute.

      02/10/16

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