Friday, 30 May 2014

Robert Mapplethorpe - Artists Rooms at Tate Modern

I saw a small exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs the other day at the Tate Modern as part of its Artists Rooms series. It's made up of three rooms of photographs, mainly portraits and one of the rooms is full of portraits of Robert himself.

Naturally, it started with three photos of Patti Smith, one from the 'Horses' session, one from 'Waves' and a photo of a naked Patti crouching beside a radiator. There were also three portraits of Andy Warhol with his white hair stark against the black background. I couldn't help but wonder what he saw while he posing for the photos.

After the first room there's a small sign at the entrance to the second room to warn of the sexualised theme of some of the photos in further rooms. There were the expected male and female nudes but I didn't think any were particularly racy. What wasn't expected was a room of self-portraits over something like a 20 year period, including one photo of Robert in drag. How the face changes with fluffed hair and lipstick on his full lips. Most of the photos are head and shoulders but one includes the artist bending over holding a whip to his bum as if is a tail. I suppose that warrants the earlier sign.

Something I liked about many of the photos on display is their clarity of line, very black and white and almost architectural, with little scope for shades of grey. There's also something distinctly New York about many of the photos that makes me think they probably couldn't have been taken anywhere else. Maybe it's the stillness (there is movement in only two of the photos) or the focus of the sitters staring straight into the lens?

If you're in the area it's definitely worth popping into on the fourth floor of the Tate Modern.

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