Robert Mapplethorpe

Learn about ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE (1946-1989), Post-War & Contemporary Art artist,their past and upcoming works offered at auction at Christie's

In 2010 singer and poet Patti Smith released her National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids. Telling the moving story of her long, troubled relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, from their meeting as young artists in late-Sixties New York, through Mapplethorpe’s struggle with his true sexuality to his eventual death of AIDS, it stands as extraordinary testament to the profound personal and artistic influence of two of the 20th century’s most inimitable talents upon one another.

Mapplethorpe’s photographs have become the defining representations of the New York avant-garde in the Seventies and Eighties. In Smith’s words, they are the ‘perfect New York City mix of leather boys, drag queens, socialites, rock and roll kids and art collectors’. Together with his images of the sadomasochistic underworld and his extraordinarily explicit work of the late Seventies, his work would challenge conservative, heterosexual preconceptions of beauty and become some of the most controversial and important photographs of the late 20th century.

Mapplethorpe was born in New York and studied at the Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn. Initially, his work took the form of surrealist-inspired collages influenced by Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell. But in 1970 he began experimenting with Polaroid and, three years later, the Light Gallery in New York held a show of his work. After 1975 he began working with a Hasselblad, producing the iconic 1975 album cover for Smith’s Horses, as well as a string of portraits of their famous friends, including David Hockney (1976) and Debbie Harry (1978). By the late Seventies he was deeply immersed in the study of the human form and the sadomasochistic community, creating sexually explicit pictures such as those of his X Portfolio (1978), which would continue to court controversy long after his death with their shocking exploration of the lines between beauty, art and pornography.

By the 1980s, his work had softened. His portraits of bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, and his tender sculptural nudes and portraits for The Black Book (1986), culminated in the moving series of self-portraits he took between 1986 and 1988 recording his declining health with AIDS.

Upcoming lots by this artist