Body image: Robert Mapplethorpe’s sensual take on the human form in LA

Body image: Robert Mapplethorpe’s sensual take on the human form in LA

During his life – and even beyond his death in 1989 – the late Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs were never without controversy. His black-and-white depictions of the gay New York subculture of the 1970s and 80s have been deemed indecent, pornographic, racist and exploitative – but also immaculately executed, visceral, beautiful and profound.  

Decades later, Mapplethorpe is having his LA moment with ’Robert Mapplethorpe: In Search of Perfection’, a sprawling retrospective spanning not one, but two museums, LACMA and The Getty Center. Coinciding with these is West Hollywood gallery Moran Bondaroff’s ‘Dark and Light,’ which opened last week and runs until late June.

While Mapplethorpe’s many subjects included lovers, celebrities and female bodybuilders, ‘Dark and Light’ zeroes in on Mapplethorpe’s fascination with the black male body, another point of controversy in his career. He was accused of fetishising his subjects, portraying black men as anonymous and overtly sexualised, but these photographs cover a range of expressions – neoclassical in addition to erotic poses, and even smiling portraits, fully clothed.

‘I tried to balance these bodies,’ ‘Dark and Light’ curator Vince Aletti explains; in this show, these are also sometimes white, female and, in one instance, pregnant. They’re interspersed with ‘other pictures that help define Mapplethorpe’s hungry and brilliantly idiosyncratic eye’, with ‘a vase of flowering branches in the dappled sun, Fran Lebowitz with a half-finished cigarette... a magnificently pregnant belly’, among them.

‘For me, it was like rediscovering what I love about Mapplethorpe,’ Aletti continues. ‘His love of light and texture and the shape within the frame, and no matter how sexy it is, his classical approach to the body.’

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