Curated by Arthur Jafa
It’s hard to imagine a new way of looking at Robert Mapplethorpe so many years after his death and even longer since his photographs became famous. But in a uniquely structured exhibition at Gladstone Gallery curated by video artist Arthur Jafa, a surprising picture of the late photographer emerges.
Jafa’s curatorial approach offers a reorientation of Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre by providing a wide lens through which to view his practice. His methodology is based on a process of visual sequencing—a technique which figures prominently in Jafa’s own artistic practice of gathering and amalgamating video clips. The order of the exhibition’s arrangement is predicated on each photograph’s narrative and affective elements: Jafa allows the images’ internal logic to structure the show.
Polaroids and polished portraits spanning the entirety of Mapplethorpe’s illustrious career—of flowers, muscle men, horses, and all the rest—appear side by side, a nod to Jafa’s non-hierarchical approach. A similar duality emerges in the works’ spheres of aesthetics and personality and the space between formality and intimacy: an artificial divide, Jafa reveals, since Mapplethorpe’s photographs encompass both dimensions.
Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, 1971. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.