The papers and photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) span the artist's career, from his early drawings, collages
and jewelry to his renowned photographic work in the 1970s and 1980s. The photographic material in the archive includes Polaroids,
photographs, commercial commissions, test shots, and non-editioned prints from the same photography sessions as his editioned
prints. Also included in the archive are films, personal and professional correspondence, studio documents, interviews, clippings,
exhibition files, financial records, and collected items.
A key figure in late 20th-century photography, Robert Mapplethorpe created work with a distinctive tension between opposites:
sacred and profane, mainstream and underground, light and dark. From his early Polaroid portraits, to his fashion photography
and later controversial work, Mapplethorpe's photographs are well-ordered and emotionally restrained, with chaotic and sensuous
elements beneath the surface.
Born in Queens, New York in 1946, Mapplethorpe studied graphic arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before dropping out in
1969. He met the musician, poet, and artist Patti Smith in 1967 and they lived together as intimate and artistic partners
until 1974. In 1972, Mapplethorpe met two influential curators. John McKendry gave him his first Polaroid camera, with which
he made self-portraits and portraits of his friends and acquaintances in the art world. Samuel Wagstaff, Jr. later became
the artist's lover and mentor. By the mid-1970s, Mapplethorpe had acquired a medium format camera and began photographing
the world of New York's S & M clubs.
Mapplethorpe refined his style in the early 1980s to create elegant figure studies, delicate floral still lifes, nudes, and
celebrity portraits. His preference for simple compositions and a sophisticated use of lighting to articulate subtleties of
form distinguished his mature work.
His career was successfully championed by pioneering photography dealer Harry Lunn, who, along with Robert Miller and Robert
Self, published portfolios of some of the artist's most challenging work. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mapplethorpe's
X Portfolio was at the center of an American culture war over whether public monies should be used to underwrite art that
some deemed obscene or blasphemous.
In 1989, at age 42, Mapplethorpe died from complications of AIDS. A year earlier, he established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation,
which protects his work, promotes his legacy, and supports the causes he believed in, such as art programs and HIV/AIDS prevention
Open for use by qualified researchers with the following exceptions. Polaroid test shots in Series II.D. are currently being
digitized and are unavailable until digitization is complete. Audiovisual material is unavailable until it is reformatted.
Several fragile items are restricted pending conservation treatment, as indicated in the container list. Sensitive material
is sealed for the period of time indicated in the container list. Letters from Patti Smith to Mapplethorpe are sealed for
Smith's lifetime. This collection contains content that may be offensive to some viewers and inappropriate for children.