The fame of notorious American photographer reaches Russia

Teenagers are not allowed to visit the art show: close-up images of Afro-American genitalia can shock the young mentality

When photographer Robert Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989, the artist's foundation organized a mobile art show of his photographs – Mapplethorpe's works were exhibited across the nation in the USA. People reacted differently to daring erotic images: the police arrested seven most provocative photos and the art show director in Ohio. The incident was over with a scandalous legal process, at which law-makers had to discuss a rather delicate issue of weather Mapplethorpe's works should be classified as pornography and if the US government had a right to interfere in the nation's cultural life. Friendship and democracy won, of course, and the scandalous story of the trial laid the foundation of the well-known Hollywood film “Dirty Pictures” (2000). A critic once said that if people focus attention on obscenity alone, they will see only obscenity - they will not see the design and the composition. According to the critic, such people do not see art itself. Mapplethorpe was working in the art of performance, he was not just a photographer, the critic said. There is an opinion that those, who censor his work, prove his righteousness. “They believe that they deny obscenity, although they virtually prove that there is obscenity in everything that they see,” the critic concluded.

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) is not only one of the most talented artists of photography of the second half of the 20th century. He was the first artist in the world, who publicly acknowledged the deceiving conception of any art. Such terms as “the artist's choice” or “the specific view of the world” become absolutely useless when they come across Mapplethorpe's truth of life: “Camera gives a perfect opportunity to lie. If you do not like this gesture or that look – you do not photograph them. This is how we all lie.”

It is not known, if Mapplethorpe was deliberately trying to mislead the humanity or expose the spiritual yearning in his pictures. The artist, however, obtained scandalous fame and became a “gay icon.” Robert Mapplethorpe's manner can be described as the “brutality of beauty:” His images always carry a strong erotic content even if it is a picture of exquisite flowers.

Mapplethorpe's name was known among most progressive fans of photography only 15 years ago. However, the artist's personal exhibitions became very successful in most prestigious art galleries of Europe and America in the middle of the 1990s. The popularity of the artist started growing owing to the activity of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. The foundation seems to own all negatives of the master and the copyright for his work.

Mapplethorpe-mania has finally reached Moscow this year, although it came ten years late. The art exhibition “Robert Mapplethorpe and the classic tradition. The art of photography and mannerism prints” recently opened in the Moscow House of Photography. Scathing Russian critics called the project “Mapplethorpe for juniors.” The exhibition is based on the subtle intersection of Mapplethorpe's pictures with the work of well-known Italian artists of the XVI century. There are no “pornographic” images at the show. The Russian show presents most exquisite and expressive pictures of the artist. As it turns out, a gay icon can be a real artist too: the photographer's works look as good as ancient prints.

It is worth mentioning that there is another Mapplethorpe show in Moscow too: it exhibits three portfolios of the artist - "X", "Y", "Z" – and 12 independent photos. The X", "Y", "Z" series are considered unique; they are hardly exposed to the public eye in art galleries. Teenagers are not allowed to visit the art show: close-up images of Afro-American genitalia can shock the young mentality. Those, who wish to experience the esthetic pleasure of the viewing, will probably be disappointed. Most controversial photographs are rather small in size, and they are improperly illuminated.

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Author`s name Olga Savka