This afternoon I went to the Weinstein Gallery to see the selection of Mapplethorpe photos before it closes. I was surprisingly impressed, both with the exhibition space and the things on the walls. I hadn’t seen any Mapplethorpe prints in person before now because I’m not really a fan. However, the pieces on display made me reevaluate that. Mapplethorpe’s use of the body as a sculptural object never struck me as particularly new or interesting, but I suspect its because the most frequently published examples are those that are most closely aligned with the modernist/Westonian heritage (well crafted examples of “the thing in itself”). These pieces were different; they were well-wrought to the point of being overwrought. That was much more exciting. The blacks became like a reverse halo, with the darkness spilling over into the backgrounds.
Overall, the impact was closer to William Mortensen than Edward Weston. The veins on Ken’s arms in one of the shots were in such high relief as to resemble a Rodin; the over-the-top use of body paint made the bodies resemble dolls instead of people; the use of color was garish and cartoon-like. The artificial nature of the images just shone from the plain white walls and creaky floor of the gallery. It was silent as we looked around, but eventually a man came up from the basement, said hello, and then proceeded across the street without any interference in the viewing experience. It was a beautiful show, indeed.
The photograph in the 2000 article matched the appearance of the man from the basement; it was taken by Daniel Corrigan, the photographer whose show I saw yesterday. The design of Corrigan’s photograph is much the same as several of the thousands that came flashing across the hi-def TV screen. The Mapplethorpe photographs, on the other hand, were distinctive. Not what I was expecting, and unlike any of the others that I had seen in reproduction.