On June 14, 1989, The New York Times reported, “The Corcoran Gallery of Art has canceled a planned retrospective of the work of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, anticipating that its content would trigger a political storm on Capitol Hill.”
Mapplethorpe’s exhibition, entitled “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment,” was a travelling retrospective of the transgressive American artist, who had died of complications from AIDS in March of that year. The photographs, largely made up of images of male same-sex sex taken in the artist’s studio in the ‘70s, had been flagged by conservative politicians as too “obscene” to have received government grants. Though this kind of controversy had followed Mapplethorpe throughout his career, what makes his work, and his legacy, so important is his unflinching dedication to imaging the gay body—perfectly articulated in perhaps his most controversial and stunning piece, Self Portrait with Whip.
Beginning Sept. 10, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents the travelling exhibition “Focus: Perfection Robert Mapplethorpe”, featuring work collected from the artist’s lifetime. Drawing work from “The Perfect Moment”, the show also includes still-lifes, celebrity portraits (including his muse, Patti Smith, and Andy Warhol), and a selection of other milestone works. It runs through to mid-January 2017, and while the exhibition is now free to exist and be seen without political strife, the images are still uncomfortable, uneasy, and challenging—just as art should be.
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