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No need for a stiff drink after Mapplethorpe Exhibition

November 17, 2010

I was braced for a sea of explicit images when I ventured into the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne. Knowing a little about this controversial photographer’s work, I was intrigued as to what images of his had been selected for display. The flames of my curiosity were further fanned when I was pointed to a column in the Guardian which discussed whether children should be exposed to such shocking imagery.

Now, before I go any further I must warn that this paragraph contains the word penis. Yes, penis. There were a few depicted in the gallery, only two exposed though, one was disguised. It wasn’t so much shocking as disappointing after all the hype. Not that the penises themselves were disappointing you understand, rather the lack of  extreme photos that I had been rather hoping to see.

Maybe it was simply that I don’t shock easily, but I wasn’t really sure what was so wrong about the the images, yes some of them depicted the gay S+M scene, there was a gimp mask and some chains and that oh-so-naughty-fabric leather, but a penis bound in some leather thonging isn’t exactly heart-attack inducing art. Even for Eastbourne.  But there was so much more to the exhibition, his self-portraits, his portaits of children, and his sculptures. None of which contained any exposed boy bits.

Walking around, you get the very definite impression that it didn’t matter to Mapplethorpe whether he was photographing a child laughing or a submissive man chained to his Dom, it was done with the same thought and care. His portraiture work is as beautiful as his BDSM work and I don’t honestly see why it should be shielded from anyone. People are naked, people live alternative and sub-culture lifestyles. Ignoring it doesn’t make that go away, in fact it strengthens the case for artists such as Mapplethorpe to document it and immortalise it in print.

Take the time to look beyond the images that make the papers and overall it’s an exhibition worth going to.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2010 12:53 am

    Well expressed. One would have thought Mapplethorpe’s work would be part of the modern canon of photo-art by now, instead of still eliciting shrill cries that go back to the Salem witch trials. Alas, there’s a long way to go…

    • November 18, 2010 10:26 am

      Thanks Daryl. Yes, although the grumbles have been minimal they’re still there, stirring with a great big spoon!

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