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Robert Mapplethorpe, The Archive


This book has an amazingly more intimate feel than its twin publication, The Photographs, despite the intensity of Mapplethorpe’s images featured in the book . This is thanks to the discovery of the different artworks, books, and images which inspired the photographer, of private sketches, tests, and documents that he either produced himself or collected over the course of his brief but prolific career, as well as thanks to over 200 pages of fascinating texts which retrace his life. Words and illustrations interweave throughout the book, plunging us headlong into Robert Mapplethorpe’s universe.

This impression of intimacy is evident from the opening pages, with the essay by singer Patti Smith, the artist’s partner, friend, and soul mate. She talks about their youth and closes with a legal pad sheet on which Mapplethorpe penned some touching lines on the importance of their encounter and which Patti Smith calls the piece of archive most precious to her. Robert’s letter is headed “4th year College / Summer of Love.”

Dense and exhaustive, the book is divided into nine chapters which explore the origins of Mapplethorpe’s work, its emotional impact, imaginativeness, and the progressive stages of its development. The chapters follow the periods in the artist’s life, from Pratt Institute in New York, where he took classes, to the Chelsea Hotel, where he resided,  to the periods devoted to fashion and those he spent as a “bad boy with a camera,” in the company of Sam Wagstaff, his lover and one of his greatest influences.

It is impossible to give an accurate idea of the wealth of this book. To cite just a few of the documents presented: the sketch of a duck dated 1967; an invitation to a black-tie party in 1977; a series of unposed snapshots of Mapplethorpe at a New York pier; a set of abstract drawings in colored pencils (ca. 1968); a photo of Robert and Patti in Coney Island in 1969; an issue of the gay magazine Drummer; Polaroid tests; French erotic images by unknown artists; several original prints by Nadar, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Norman Seef.

Towards the end of the book, we also find some  correspondence, with June Newton and Lisa Lyon, administrative and financial documents, and fragments of interviews with the artist. This collection of artifacts compiled in view of narrating one of the most singular stories in photography culminates with the words of Mapplethorpe: “I have no secrets.”

Robert Mapplethorpe, The Archive
By Frances Terpak and Michelle Brunnick
With essays by Patti Smith and Jonathan Weinberg
J. Paul Getty Museum
340 pages, 9.5 x 12 inches
241 color illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-469-6, Hardcover
US $59.95 T [UK £40.00]

Robert Mapplethorpe, The Perfect Medium
• From March 15th to July 31st, 2016
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1687
United States
• From March 20th to July 31st, 2016
The Los Angeles County Museum Of Art (Lacma)
5905 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
United States

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