It is a long story, but Los Angeles was able to permanently woo the Mapplethorpe archive away from his home stomping grounds of New York, mounting an extensive exhibition which has engaged the resources of both LACMA and The Getty. Britt Salvesen, LACMA Curator of Prints and Photography, and the Getty Associate Curator of Photographs, Paul Martineau, culled the trove selecting over 400 hundred representative prints to be distributed between the two venues using a rubric which made sense to each of them – LACMA’s guiding principle was Dionysian, Getty’s was Apollonian. The result is two very different exhibits of the photographer’s oeuvre, though there are cross-over elements in each.
It might sound like an overdose, but my husband and I have had what can only be described as a Mapplethorpe weekend. The kickoff was a Saturday talk at LACMA by Salvesen and a morning, uncrowded view of LACMA’s less iconic Mapplethorpe display. Less iconic, but interesting. Sunday, a similar strategy of up and out yielded another uncrowded view of the more familiar, but no less arresting, Mapplethorpe. Here you see a concentration of the work that made him both famous and infamous. On multiple levels it is a study of light and dark, line and shadow; breathtaking even if much is more familiar. At brunch in the Richard Meier white dining room on a brilliantly bright, first day after an LA rain day, everything we saw became fodder for black and white iPhone shots while we waited to be served.
Whether or not you choose an immersion dose of both exhibits, is a matter of time and interest in the artist. If you are in possession of both, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Should you be short on time, or if you snuck through college on a diet of Cliffs Notes, head directly to the Getty. You will not be disappointed. Icing on the cake is an adjoining exhibition, The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs. Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe were lovers. It was Wagstaff who recognized potential in the young Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids and gave him a nudge and a Hasselblad igniting his photographic fire. In this auxiliary exhibit Wagstaff’s extraordinary eye is revealed to be as discerning as Mapplethorpe’s creative eye.