… they don’t look like anyone else’s flowers. They have a certain archness to them,
a certain edge that flowers generally do not have. —Robert Mapplethorpe, 1987
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) was one of the most innovative photographers of his generation. Best known for his portraiture, depictions of contemporary gay life, and documentation of sexual subcultures, he was a key member of the New York avant-garde of the 1970s and 80s, counting among his closest artistic colleagues the musician, artist, and poet Patti Smith, as well as Andy Warhol. His renown continued to increase after his untimely death from AIDS-related causes, and today he remains a figure of both celebrity and controversy.
Mapplethorpe’s photographs of flowers are among his lesser-known images, but are nevertheless an important part of his life’s work. He shot them in his studio, often using flowers from arrangements he was sent as gifts and rearranging them in vases from his large personal collection. With their unconventional compositions, dramatic light-and dark contrasts, and crystalline focus, the images share many of the signature characteristics of his work. Although still lifes were not his stock-in-trade, Mapplethorpe pointed out the connections between his flower images and his highly charged images of people, remarking, “I don’t think they’re very different from body parts. Maybe I experiment a little more with flowers and inanimate objects because you don’t have to worry about the subject being sensitive or worry about the personality. I don’t think I see differently just because the subject changes.” With his flower pictures, Mapplethorpe pushed the envelope of what a still life could do and be.
The Montclair Art Museum is delighted to present Robert Mapplethorpe Flowers and thanks the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection for its generous loan of these works.