Summer memories of 1981: Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial slideshow at the Antique theatre in Arles.
As part of the opening week of the 50th edition of Arles Photo Festival, Isabella Seniuta (researcher at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) led a round table with Bénédicte Burrus (director of the Ropac / Marais gallery), Christian Caujolle (current director of the Photo Phnom Penh festival) and Maryse Cordesse (member of the founding team of the Rencontres d’Arles), which focused on the slideshow presented by Robert Mapplethorpe at the Antique theatre in Arles on July 9th, 1981. Given the fame of the American artist and the sometimes provocative homoerotic images, the event was extensively commented in the press at the time, which attests to questions of censorship and of the international aura of the Arles Photo Festival. Entitled L’homme, un jardin de géométrie, the Mapplethorpe slideshow was screened on the night of July 9th, based on a selection made by the artist himself and the collector Sam Wagstaff, his lover and patron.This Arlésian presentation exposed a summary of his portfolio XYZ (X for the sexual images, Y for the flowers et Z for the masculine nudes) with Patti Smith’s album Horses. Based on unpublished archive documents from the festival and correspondence between Lucien Clergue and Sam Wagstaff discovered at the Getty Research Institute by Isabella Seniuta, the speakers of the round table commented and tried to revive the 1981 Arlésian slideshow, an unprecedented exercise in the career of Robert Mapplethorpe.