Bodily Perfection

Bodily Perfection

The life and work of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989), one of the most influential artists and photographers of the 20th century, will be examined by Kunsthal Rotterdam this summer. Opening more than two decades after his death, the show focuses on key works that remain controversial and test the limits of what is artistically possible. a perfectionist offers an impressive survey of his career, from early works in the late 1960s to the art world success he established in the 1980s.

Mapplethorpe breaks down the boundaries between life and art. His passionate desire to achieve aesthetic perfection forms the core of his work, and is a central part of this new retrospective. Focusing on what Mapplethorpe called ‘perfection in form’, it examines the artist’s fascination with sexual fetishism and his ambition to elevate photography to the status of fine art. The iconic images and masterly compositions that made him famous are set in a wider context. Projects such as X, Y and Z Portfolios provide insight into his working method, showing the trajectory from his improvisational beginnings to the controlled studio practice he later developed.

Also on display are portraits of friends and acquaintances, including his girlfriend and muse Patti Smith, the body builder Lisa Lyon and model Phillip Prioleau, alongside many self-portraits, which demonstrate Mapplethorpe’s understanding of the importance of crafting his own image. Sexuality is at the centre of a large part of his work, and in the late 1960s he used images from gay pornographic magazines for his collages. When he began to take his own photographs in the early 1970s, he had already discovered the SM subculture of New York.

The largest presentation in the Netherlands of Mapplethorpe’s work, a perfectionist throws new light on genres such as portraiture, self-portraiture, the nude and still life in over 200 objects. Organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the Kunsthal is the sole European institution to host the exhibition. It is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs, co-published by the J. Paul Getty Museum and LACMA.

Robert Mapplethorpe, a perfectionist, 22 April-27 August, Kunsthal Rotterdam.

More information can be found at

1. Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon (1981), Gelatin silver print. Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and to The J. Paul Getty Trust.