Inside the Morán Morán gallery, on the impeccably white walls, there are rows of photographs arranged with precise distances from each other. All are framed in the same way, homogenizing the formats. The orchid arranged on a surface with its languid petals and legs spread towards the camera on a delicately wrinkled sheet. The gray marble on the floor is chillingly cold; as if I could touch it with my eyes, I realize that there are certain exhibitions in which there is an echo of bondage . With its materials and temperatures, the space ends up disciplining you until you reach contemplative immobility. A temporary suspension that contains pleasure, orders it and trains it.
Mapplethorpe: Sculpture is an exhibition curated by Tobias Ostrander in which 36 photographs explore the artist's fascination with the sculptural aspects of bodies and objects throughout his work. The six black-and-white polaroids date from the early 1970s and are the format in which self-portraits most appear, interspersed with images of classical sculptures in parks and public squares. The first gelatin silver prints began in 1978 and ended in 1988, the decade in which he reached the peak of his celebrity and artistic recognition. There are flowers, leather harnesses, chains, portraits and marble and bronze sculptures that refer to one of the most important retrospectives, entitled The Perfect Moment, organized by Janet Kardon for the Institute of Contemporary Art of Philadelphia. It was inaugurated in 1988, generating inquisitive complaints from groups such as the American Family Association, due to the explicit content of the images. The Perfect Moment happened months before Robert Mapplethorpe died of complications from HIV.
Apollo (1988) was carved again from the dark background against which he shows us his profile and looks somewhere, there where all the classical sculptures look with their ghostly eyes. The contrasts generated by black and white photography present a recognizable composition within the genealogy of art history. For a Renaissance sensibility like Mapplethorpe's, there is no division between form and content, proposed by the conceptual art of the 1970s in the United States. The drapes on some of its backgrounds and the stone bases on which it places the photographed subjects increase the inseparableness between the flower bulbs and the testicles, the skin and the marble. Everything becomes an exercise of proportions: the human eye is the one who judges and receives the beauty of its correct execution.
There is an oil painting depicting Lucrezia Borgia, painted between 1519 and 1530. She was born on April 18, 1480 in the midst of the Italian Renaissance and was married to Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, forming one of the most important marriages in relation to to the artistic patronage of the time. At the bottom of the painting, written in golden Latin, is the inscription: CLARIOR HOC PVLCRO REGNANS IN CORPORE VIRTVS (Clearer than beauty is the virtue that reigns in this virtuous body). For many years the image was believed to be of a young man with no name. On the reverse side of the portrait of Ginevra de'Benci, painted between 1474 and 1478 by Leonardo Da Vinci, the prayer is found among laurel branches and palm leaves, also in Latin: VIRTVTEM FORMA DECORAT(Beauty adorns virtue). This type of textual accompaniment is characteristic of many Renaissance paintings, largely due to renewed interest in literary works of classical antiquity such as Virgil's "The Aeneid" (I BC), commissioned by the Emperor Augustus in order to establish the Roman virtues or the values to which citizens should aspire such as salubritas , humanitas and veritas . A healthy, human and true body is a virtuous one.
Virtue comes from the Latin virtutem which means 'power' and is related to the root virwhich comes from 'man'. Roman humanism and the Christian values that were derived from it are the bases on which a human ideal understood as masculine was configured. The way in which Robert Mapplethorpe pauses on a tendon and uses the silver impression technique to accentuate the muscle clefts is a continuation of these ideas, albeit put in tension with a countercultural New York context, in which the purity constitutes a love relationship between two men in ancient times was now related to perversion. It is also remarkable how many of the photographs only show certain parts, perhaps as a reference to Greek sculptures and their state of ruin, with an incomplete body: the legs of Milton Moore (1981), the torso of the dancer Peter Reed(1980) bending over and hugging, as well as Dennis's sharp jaw (1978). While they are the representation of an idealized masculinity, they challenge what is a virtuous body, a healthy body or a beautiful body.
The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) was founded in 1844 by George Williams as a space where young men could develop a healthy mind, body and spirit, based on Christian principles. I think of the Mussolini sculpture photographed in 1988 and how dangerous the erotic dimensions of worshiping the young are in both fascist imaginaries and youth organizations. During the seventies the YMCA had the connotation of being a place to practice cruising or the search for sexual encounters. When the members of The Village People (the band that immortalized the hit YMCA , as well as Macho Man , in 1978) have been asked about their political stance , they have replied: “Whatever. We're not Joan Baez ”. I do not want to over-politicize the photographs of BDSM sex acts and leather culture in this exhibition, rather, I prefer to see them as a reflection of the male utopias that the artist found in bars like the Mine Shaft in New York, one of those places where much of the prestige was determined in relation to people who were denied entry, such as Rudolf Nureyev.
The Mine Shaft dress code
as adopted by the club on October 1, 1976
is to be followed during the year 1978.
The Board of Directors
Approved dress includes the following:
Cycle leather & Western gear, levis
Jocks, action ready wear, uniforms,
T shirts, plaid shirts, just plain shirts,
Club overlays, patches, & sweat.
There is a self-portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe disguised as a faun (1985). He looks at the camera and looks at me, reminding me that I can't take all of this so seriously. The leather counterculture emerged after the Second World War, with men renouncing the values and heteronormative structures of the nuclear family; a flight from the virtue and good citizenship of his time. More than with the images of Renaissance beauty ideals, I keep thinking of the friendship of Niso and Eurylus, who, had they been born in New York during the postwar period, would surely have escaped on a motorcycle or danced all night in leather clothes.