A Mirror on Mapplethorpe and Rodin

Robert Mapplethorpe once said, “if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.” This Spring, Mapplethorpe’s work is the subject of multiple exhibitions and career retrospectives, but perhaps the most intriguing is a show which unexpectedly aligns his iconic black and white photography with figures by “the father of modern sculpture.” Auguste Rodin.

Rodin and Mapplethorpe may seem an unlikely artistic pairing. Mapplethorpe’s photographs aim to capture beauty and the perfection of form, while Rodin’s sculptures embrace the imperfections. Mapplethorpe picked up a polaroid while sharing a space in the Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith and never looked back, living and working in New York City through the 1970’s and 80’s until has career was tragically cut short by the AIDS epidemic. Rodin’s career started a century before, working as a designer and craftsmen and travelling around Europe studying the artistic greats before coming into his own aesthetic.

Though both men’s work broke away from the trends and met controversy, Mapplethrorpe’s for it’s homoeroticism and particularly his documentation of New York City’s underground bondage and S & M scene, and Rodin’s for it’s unapologetic realism and embrace of the natural form, fragmentation, and tendency to be ‘unfinished.’ Capturing the soul of the subject, Rodin once said “what makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.” Mapplethorpe let the pictures appear to him. When asked why he documented “shocking,’ sexual content, he said simply “ I’m looking for the unexpected. I’m looking for things I’ve never seen before…I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them.”

Despite their differences, both men explored similar subjects and themes in their work, from movement and tension, black and white/light and shadow, and eroticism and damnation. Opening April 8th in Paris, the Museé Rodin’s exhibition ‘Mapplethorpe-Rodin’ explores these parallels, shedding new perspective on both men’s illustrious careers. ‘Mapplethorpe-Rodin’ will be on show April 8 through September 21, 2014.

Sarah Bertness is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer covering the arts, music, fashion and culture. She has a love for all things avant-garde, late night rock and roll, wanderlust, and a good dose of fringe and gold sequins. You can follow her musings on Twitter and Instagram @sarahbertness.

You must be logged in to post a comment