"Robert Mapplethorpe: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute Collection" will go on display Oct.10 through Nov. 22 at Indiana University's Grunwald Gallery. Presented jointly by the Grunwald Gallery and The Kinsey Institute, the exhibition marks the first time this group of photographs has been publicly shown.
Mapplethorpe is considered by art historians to be one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. His striking black-and-white photographs capture a classical beauty that is both formal and raw.
In 2011, The Kinsey Institute received a gift of 30 prints from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. These photographs dating from 1976 to 1985 are excellent examples of Mapplethorpe's more challenging work. Some of the gelatin silver prints are nude or clothed portraits, while others contain explicit homosexual and heterosexual imagery from the New York S&M scene.
At the time of the gift, foundation president Michael Stout described the works as some of the artist's "most memorable and most difficult." The Kinsey Institute was chosen to receive this group of photographs because of its scholarly mission and IU's storied record of academic freedom, Stout said.
On Oct. 10, photo critic Philip Gefter will deliver a lecture on “Robert Mapplethorpe, Sam Wagstaff, and the Gay Sensibility.” The event will take place at 5 p.m. in Room 102 at the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts. An opening reception will follow from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Grunwald Gallery.
Gefter writes about photography for The Daily Beast. He previously covered the subject at The New York Times for more than 15 years. Aperture recently published his book of essays, “Photography After Frank.”
In 2010, Gefter produced the acclaimed feature-length documentary, “Bill Cunningham, New York.” His current project is “Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe -- A Biography,” which will be published by W.W. Norton & Co. in November.
On Oct. 24, Andrew Moisey will present the gallery talk “Robert Mapplethorpe: Pleasure and Pain” at noon in the Grunwald. Moisey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers University.
Though Mapplethorpe is well known for a variety of subjects, including celebrity portraits and flower studies, his more explicit photographs have sparked a wider public dialogue. In 1989, a retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work, “The Perfect Moment,” helped ignite a fierce culture war after Republican Sen. Jesse Helms discovered that the National Endowment for the Arts had awarded the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia $30,000 toward the exhibition. A battle ensued over the government’s role in funding for the arts.
One year later, the same exhibition provoked local law enforcement in Cincinnati, Ohio, to accuse Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center and its director of pandering pornography and promoting obscenity. A famous trial resulted in which the definition of art itself was the essential issue. Art and the exhibition prevailed, as all charges were dismissed.
“Robert Mapplethorpe: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute Collection” opens 25 years after the artist’s death and the opening of “The Perfect Moment” retrospective. All 30 Mapplethorpe photographs from the Kinsey collection will be featured, along with materials that address the controversy surrounding the 1989 exhibition and the culture wars of the early 1990s.
The Mapplethorpe exhibition and related events provide an opportunity to examine changes in the social climate that may or may not have occurred over the past several decades. What lasting effects did the culture wars have on the public’s perception of art? Did Mapplethorpe make the exploration of this subject matter more or less difficult for other artists? How does one determine what is obscene and what is art?
A companion exhibition, "Beyond Mapplethorpe," features images by photographers who either influenced his work or were his contemporaries in the 1970s and 1980s. The show of more than 20 photographs from The Kinsey Institute includes work by Tom Bianchi, George Platt Lynes, Len Prince, Bettina Rheims, Herb Ritts and Arthur Tress. Although these images may not be as overtly sexual as some of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, they reveal the same interest in exploring and expanding the artistic possibilities of the human figure.
The Mapplethorpe exhibition and corresponding programs have been made possible by The College Arts and Humanities Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Grunwald Gallery of Art and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, all at Indiana University; the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York; and Michael E. Rudder.