LACMA presents THE x, y, and z PORTFOLIOS by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

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By James MacLean

(Los Angeles-October 11, 2012) The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
(LACMA) presents three portfolios created by American photographer
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989). The exhibition, Robert Mapplethorpe:
XYZ, features a total of thirty-nine black-and-white photographs,
exploring three subject matters: homosexual sadomasochistic imagery
(X, published in 1978); flower still lifes (Y, 1978); and nude
portraits of African American men (Z, 1981). LACMA’s presentation will
showcase the works in three rows—X above, Y in the middle, and Z along
the bottom—an idea which was suggested by Mapplethorpe in 1989.

“Robert Mapplethorpe is among the most important photographic artists
of the twentieth century,” comments Britt Salvesen, Department Head
and Curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at LACMA.
“The X, Y, and Z portfolios not only defined the artist’s career, but
also played a role in an important moment of American cultural
politics that is still pertinent to us today.”
This is the first presentation of Mapplethorpe’s work since last
year’s widely publicized joint acquisition by LACMA, The J. Paul Getty
Museum, and The Getty Research Institute of Mapplethorpe’s art and
archives—including over 1,900 editioned prints and over 1,000 noneditioned
prints, 200 unique mixed-media objects, over 160 Polaroids,
120,000 negatives, and extensive working materials, ephemera, and
documents. The majority of the acquisition originated as a generous
gift from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the remainder of the
funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty
Trust.
Concurrent with the LACMA exhibition, The J. Paul Getty Museum
presents In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe, on view October 23, 2012-March
24, 2013. This single-gallery exhibition reviews the artist’s work
from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, and features editioned prints,
rarely seen mixed-media objects, and Polaroids that depict a wide
range of subject matter including self-portraits, nudes, and still
lifes. A larger Mapplethorpe retrospective, jointly organized by LACMA
and the Getty, is planned for 2016.
About the Artist
Born in 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe grew up in the suburban area of
Floral Park, Queens. As a student at the Pratt Institute in New York,
he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture and experimented with
various materials in mixed-media collages. When Mapplethorpe acquired
a Polaroid camera in 1970, he began incorporating his own photos into
his constructions. His first solo gallery exhibition, Polaroids, took
place at Light Gallery in New York City in 1973.

Two years later he transitioned from the Polaroid to a Hasselblad
medium-format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and
acquaintances. His subjects—artists, musicians, socialites,
pornographic film stars, and members of the S & M underground—came
from a variety of backgrounds. Mapplethorpe’s interest in documenting
the New York S&M scene was strongest in the late 1970s, when he
produced photographs with shocking content but remarkable technique
and formal mastery. In 1978, the Robert Miller Gallery in New York
City became his exclusive dealer. Throughout the 1980s, Mapplethorpe
produced images that challenged and adhered to classical aesthetic
standards including stylized compositions of male and female nudes,
delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and
celebrities. He explored and refined different techniques and formats—
including color 20” x 24” Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on
paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color processes—but
gelatin silver printing remained his primary medium.
In 1986, Robert Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his
illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of
his photographic inquiry, and accepted numerous commissions. The
Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum
retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989. Beyond the
art historical and social significance of his work, his legacy lives
on through the work of Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which he
established in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that
exhibit photographic art, and to find medical research in the fight
against AIDS and HIV-related infection.
Exhibition History
Mapplethorpe’s work has historically provoked strong reactions, most
notably during the so-called Culture Wars of the 1980s, a period of
conflict between conservative and liberal factions. The traveling
retrospective, The Perfect Moment, opened at the Institute of
Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1988. Among the 150 photographs
and objects in the show were the sadomasochistic imagery of
Mapplethorpe’s X portfolio, as well as the Y and Z portfolios; the

show appeared in two venues without any incident. When it was due to
open at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., during the
summer of 1989, politicians who opposed federal funding for the arts
became alarmed. The Corcoran canceled the exhibition, resulting in a
protest against the gallery’s withdrawal of the show. Controversy
ensued further at a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in
Cincinnati, where charges of obscenity were brought against director
David Barrie. In this high-profile trial, five images from the X
portfolio were used as evidence. Barrie was acquitted, and
Mapplethorpe has been linked to debates about censorship ever since.
Related Programming:
The Mapplethorpe Effect
Sunday, November 18, 2012 | 2pm
Brown Auditorium| Free, tickets required
In this talk, Richard Meyer, a professor of art history at
Stanford University, places Robert Mapplethorpe’s X, Y, and Z
portfolios within two linked contexts: the formal logic of
Mapplethorpe’s photography and the culture wars over
homoeroticism and federally funded are in the late 1980s and
early 1990s.
About LACMA
Since its inception in 1965, LACMA has been devoted to collecting works of
art that span both history and geography and represent Los Angeles’s uniquely
diverse population. Today, the museum features particularly strong
collections of Asian, Latin American, European, and American art, as well as
a contemporary museum on its campus. With this expanded space for
contemporary art, innovative collaborations with artists, and an ongoing
Transformation project, LACMA is creating a truly modern lens through which
to view its rich encyclopedic collection.
Location and Contact: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue), Los
Angeles, CA, 90036 | 323 857-6000 | lacma.org
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 11 am–5 pm; Friday: 11 am–8 pm; Saturday,
Sunday: 10 am–7 pm; closed Wednesday

General Admission: Adults: $15; students 18+ with ID and senior citizens 62+:
$10
Free General Admission: Members; children 17 and under; after 3 pm weekdays
for L.A. County residents; second Tuesday of every month; Target Free Holiday
Mondays
Images (page 1)[left to right]
Left: Robert Mapplethorpe, Jim, Sausalito (X Portfolio), 1977, Gelatin
silver print, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 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 by
the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert
Mapplethorpe Foundation
Center: Robert Mapplethorpe, Irises, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio), 1977, Gelatin
silver print, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 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 by
the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert
Mapplethorpe Foundation
Right: Robert Mapplethorpe, Alistair Butler, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio), 1980,
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 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 by the David
Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert Mapplethorpe
Foundation
To access the images above and a selection of other images, visit LACMA’s
Press Image Bank at lacma.org/about/press
Press Contact: For additional information, contact LACMA Communications at
press@lacma.org or 323 857-6522.
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