Getty Museum and LACMA to combine for two-venue Mapplethorpe show

A 1980 self-portrait by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work will be the subject of an unusual joint exhibition that will run simultaneously at the Getty Museum and LACMA in 2016.
A 1980 self-portrait by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work will be the subject of an unusual joint exhibition that will run simultaneously at the Getty Museum and LACMA in 2016.
(Robert Mapplethorpe / J. Paul Getty Trust / LACMA/ Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation)

The major retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work that the J. Paul Getty Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art promised four years ago when they jointly acquired some 2,000 images by the New York City photographer is set to open in 2016 in an exhibition at both museums.

The Getty’s part will run March 15 to July 31, 2016; the LACMA dates are March 20 to July 31, 2016, the two museums announced Thursday. The co-curators are Paul Martineau of the Getty and LACMA’s Britt Salvesen.

After it closes in L.A., the show will go on tour to three museums: the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it will open Aug. 29, 2016, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and a third stop to be announced. The Australian museum is led by Michael Brand, the Getty Museum’s director from 2005 until his sudden resignation in 2010.


The exhibition at LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum and at the Getty Center will expand upon much smaller concurrent shows at the two museums in 2012 that displayed some of the fruits of their shared Mapplethorpe acquisition.

The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation had conveyed the photographs jointly to the Getty and LACMA in 2011 in an unusual deal that recognized both museums’ emphasis on photography.

The foundation received an undisclosed payment that was said to be far less than the estimated value of more than $30 million for the finished photographic prints and an additional trove of negatives, preliminary Polaroid studies, and nonphotographic artworks by Mapplethorpe that went to the Getty Research Institute.

LACMA’s 2012 show focused on the 39 images that make up Mapplethorpe’s X, Y, Z Portfolios of 1978 to 1981. The X Portfolio consists of explicit and sadomasochistic images of gay sex, and the Z Portfolio portrays nude black male models who evoke classical Greek sculpture.

The Getty’s 2012 show sampled a variety of Mapplethorpe’s portraits and still lifes, among them his portrait of Patti Smith for the cover of “Horses,” the 1975 debut album that made her a rock star. Smith wrote a 2010 memoir, “Just Kids,” about her relationship with Mapplethorpe during the late 1960s and early 1970s as lovers and friends discovering their creative possibilities and beginning to make headway in their careers.

The 2016 show at LACMA and the Getty will aim for two “complementary presentations...designed to highlight different aspects of [Mapplethorpe’s] complex oeuvre,” the museums’ announcement said.


LACMA’s portion will portray “the artist’s relationship to New York’s sexual and artistic undergrounds, as well as his experimentation with a variety of media.” To provide context, LACMA will include other works from its collection by some of Mapplethorpe’s contemporaries.

The Getty will focus on other aspects of Mapplethorpe’s aesthetic: his “disciplined studio practice and his fascination with classical form and the fine photographic print.”

It was the sensational side that made Mapplethorpe a household name shortly after his death from AIDS-related causes in March 1989 at age 42. A retrospective show, “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment,” had been seen at contemporary art museums in Philadelphia and Chicago during 1988 and early 1989 without serious objections being raised.

It had been scheduled to move to the now-defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington that summer, but the Corcoran backed out after Jesse Helms, a conservative U.S. senator from North Carolina, expressed outrage after finding out that the National Endowment for the Arts had made a $30,000 grant for the touring show.

The NEA’s role became a cause celebre, as politicians who wanted to rein in government arts funding condemned Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic images as an obscene affront to American taxpayers.

Reviewing LACMA’s display of the X, Y, Z Portfolios in 2012, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote that “as much as any artist working with a camera...Mapplethorpe was instrumental in blowing up the ghetto walls that separated photography from art for more than 125 years. Today, when photographs of all kinds are ubiquitous in galleries and museums, it can be difficult to recall that they once lived in a parallel art-universe. Photography’s status as art was questioned, not assumed -- not unlike homosexuals’ humanity.


“What has obscured Mapplethorpe’s achievement in this wholesale transformation is `the scandal’ -- the manufactured outrage over his notorious X Portfolio,” Knight continued. “That’s changing now. At LACMA and the Getty, yesterday’s headline news is today’s consequential art history.”

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