The tragic news that Robert Mapplethorpe was sick with AIDS coincided ironically with the zenith of his critical acclaim as a photographer. His controversial portraits of the beau monde and the leather-bar underworld unflinchingly confronted the era of dangerous sex. Here, as he courageously orchestrates his own exit from the world stage, he talks to Dominick Dunne.
"No one expected him to live for the opening, and there he was, on a high," said Tom Armstrong, the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Whether the artist would or would not be present was the question that occupied the minds of all the people involved, in the days preceding the highly publicized and eagerly anticipated vernissage of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer who took his art to the outer limits of his own personal sexual experience, at the Whitney last July.
For nearly two years the rumors of Robert Mapplethorpe's illness had been whispered in the New York art and social circles in which he moved as a celebrated and somewhat notorious figure. The death in January 1987 of the New York aristocrat and collector Sam Wagstaff of AIDS had brought the matter of Mapplethorpe's illness with the same disease out into the open. Mapplethorpe, the principal inheritor of Sam Wagstaff's fortune, had once been Wagstaff's lover and later, for years, his great and good friend. The inheritance, believed to be in the neighborhood of $7 million—some say more, depending on the value of his art and silver collections—made the already much-talked-about Mapplethorpe, a famed figure of the night in the netherworld of New York, even more talked about, especially when the will was contested by the sister of Sam Wagstaff, Mrs. Thomas Jefferson IV of New York. Mapplethorpe has never avoided publicity; indeed, he has carefully nurtured his celebrity since his work first came to public notice in the mid-seventies.
That summer night at the Whitney Museum, there were sighs of relief when he did arrive for the opening, having been released from St. Vincent's Hospital only days before. He was in a wheelchair, surrounded by members of his entourage, carrying a cane with a death's-head top and wearing a stylish dinner jacket and black velvet slippers with his initials embroidered in gold on them—a vastly different uniform from the black leather gear that had become his trademark. For those who had not seen the once handsome figure in some time, the deterioration of his health and physical appearance was apparent and shocking. His hair looked wispy. His thin neck protruded from the wing collar of his dinner shirt like a tortoise's from its shell. But even ill, he was a man who commanded attention, and who expected it. A grouping of furniture had been placed in the center of the second of the four galleries where the exhibition was hung, and there he sat, with his inner circle in attendance, receiving the homage of his friends and admirers, a complex olio of swells and freaks, famous and unknown, that makes up the world of Robert Mapplethorpe. His eyes, darting about, missed nothing. He nodded his head and smiled, speaking in a voice barely above a whisper. "It's a wonderful night," person after person said to him, and he agreed. He was enjoying himself immensely. On the wall facing him hung Jim and Tom, Sausalito, his 1977-78 triptych of two men in black leather, adorned with the accoutrements of sadomasochistic bondage and torture. In the photographs, Jim, the master, is urinating into the willing, even eager, mouth of Tom, the tied-up slave. "Marvelous," said one after another of the fashionable crowd as they surveyed the work. "Surreal" was the word that came to my mind.
However much you may have heard that this exhibition was not a shocker, believe me, it was a shocker. Robert Mapplethorpe was described by everyone I interviewed as the man who had taken the sexual experience to the limits in his work, a documentarian of the homoerotic life in the 1970s at its most excessive, resulting, possibly, in the very plague that was killing its recorder. Even his floral photographs are erotic; as critics have pointed out, he makes it quite clear that flowers are the sexual organs of plants. But the crowds that poured in that night, and kept pouring in for the following three months that the exhibition remained up, had not come just to see the still lifes of stark flowers, or the portraits of bejeweled and elegant ladies of society, like Carolina Herrera and Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis and Paloma Picasso, and of artist friends, like David Hockney and Louise Nevelson and Willem de Kooning, which are also very much a part of Mapplethorpe's oeuvre. They had come to see the sexually loaded pictures, freed of all inhibitions, that were hanging side by side with the above in the galleries of the Whitney, like the startling Man in Polyester Suit, in which an elephantine-size black penis simply hangs out of the unzipped fly of a man whose head is cropped, or the even more startling Marty and Veronica, in which Marty makes oral love to a stockinged and girdled Veronica, whose upper body is cropped off at her bare breasts. Mapplethorpe was a participant in the dark world he photographed, not a voyeur, a point he made clear by allowing a self-portrait showing his rectum—rarely considered to be one of the body's beauty spots—to be hung on the wall of the museum, with a bullwhip up it. The Mapplethorpe sexual influence is so great that in the otherwise scholarly introduction to the catalogue of the show, Richard Marshall, an associate curator of the Whitney, made reference to this same photograph as the "Self Portrait with a whip inserted in his ass." That night, and on two subsequent visits to the exhibition, I watched the reactions of the viewers to the more graphically sexual pictures. They went from I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing-on-the-walls-of-the-Whitney-Museum looks to nudges and titters, to nervous, furtive glances to the left and right to see if it was safe to really move in and peer, and, finally, to a subdued sadness, a wondering, perhaps, of how many of the men whose genitalia they were looking at were still alive.
''On the opening night this amazing strength came to Robert," said Flora Biddle, the granddaughter of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who is the chairman of the board of trustees of the Whitney Museum, which her grandmother started. ''At the end of the evening he got up and walked out, after he had come in in a wheelchair."
Later, Mapplethorpe told me his feelings about the opening. ''It was pretty good. I kept thinking what it would have been like if I'd been feeling better."
''You've become really famous, Robert," I said. ''How does that feel?"
''Great," he said quietly, but shook his head at the same time. ''I'm quite frustrated I'm not going to be around to enjoy it. The money's coming in, though. I m making more money now than I've ever made before."
Today Mapplethorpe charges $10,000 for a sitting. His one-of-a-kind pictures sell for an average of $20,000 each. A Mapplethorpe print from the Robert Miller Gallery, his dealer in New York, starts at $5,000.
''I seem to read something about you every day in the press," I said.
"I do love publicity," he replied. ''Good publicity."
In a sense, Sam Wagstaff created Robert Mapplethorpe, but anyone who knows Robert Mapplethorpe will tell you that he was ready and waiting to be created. They met over the telephone when Mapplethorpe was twenty-five years old and Sam was fifty. ''Are you the shy pornographer?" Wagstaff asked when he telephoned him. Robert had heard of Sam before the call. "Everyone said there was a person in the art world I should meet. So Sam came over to look at my etchings, so to speak."
At that time the totally unknown Mapplethorpe was sharing an apartment in Brooklyn with the then totally unknown poet and later rock 'n' roll star Patti Smith, who has remained one of his closest friends. Although he was, in his own words, "doing photographs of sexuality" with a Polaroid camera back then, he did not yet consider himself a photographer. The Polaroid camera had been purchased for him by John McKendry, the curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum. Mapplethorpe had become a sort of adopted son to McKendry and his wife, Maxine de la Falaise, the daughter of the English portrait painter Sir Oswald Birley, and was taken about by them into the smart circles of people who later became his friends and patrons. Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe became positive influences on each other's lives. The handsome and patrician Wagstaff, who graduated from Yale and once worked in advertising, had long since moved away from the Upper East Side and New York society world of his birth into the bohemian world downtown. A former museum curator, he had become more and more of a reclusive figure, involved with a group devoted to self-fulfillment called Arica, and sometimes, according to Mapplethorpe, observing whole days of silence. Wagstaff encouraged Mapplethorpe in his photography, and Mapplethorpe persuaded Wagstaff to start collecting photographs. "He became obsessed with photography," said Mapplethorpe. "He bought with a vengeance. It went beyond anything I imagined. Through him, I started looking at photographs in a much more serious way. I got to know dealers. I went with him when he was buying things. It was a great education, although I had my own vision right from the beginning. If you look at my early Polaroids, the style was then what I have now."
Richard Marshall states in his introduction in the catalogue that Mapplethorpe "did not feel a strong ideological commitment to photography; rather it simply became the medium that could best convey his statement." Explaining this, Marshall said, "He wasn't a photographer who found his subject. The camera became the best way for him to express himself. Before that he was into collage, drawings, et cetera. He took up the camera to play with, and found that it was what he was looking for."
Barbara Jakobson, who was one of Mapplethorpe's first avid supporters as well as an old friend of Wagstaff's, said, "When I become enthusiastic about an artist, I do not keep my mouth shut. Within five minutes the jungle drums are beating. I like to see people I admire succeed. That was when our friendship started. Robert really saved Sam Wagstaff's life. At the beginning of the seventies, anyone who knew Sam said that he was virtually a recluse. Robert is the one who got him interested in collecting photography. Sam revolutionized the way we look at photographs. When he sold his collection to the Getty Museum, his position in photography was forever assured."
Mapplethorpe does not stint in his acknowledgment of his late friend's patronage. "I was a real hippie. Sam was a real hippie too. Financially he certainly helped me. He was very generous. We never actually lived together. I had a loft on Bond Street which he bought for me. He had a loft on Bond Street too. We were lovers as well. I think if you're going to do a story, you should get all the facts. It lasted a couple of years. Then we became best friends. I even introduced him to James Nelson, who became his boyfriend after me." He paused before he added, "He's sick at this point too."
"Yes. He's going through all his money. He's spending like crazy. He rents an apartment at Number One Fifth Avenue, where he and Sam lived, but Sam's apartment in that building has been sold."
Shortly after we talked, Jim Nelson died. Nelson, a former hairstylist for the television soap opera All My Children, inherited 25 percent of Wagstaff's residuary estate, and Mapplethorpe inherited 75 percent. Nelson, aware that he was dying, wanted his money immediately, so Mapplethorpe, through their lawyers, bought out Nelson's share. As Nelson's life neared its end, he fulfilled a long-held dream and rented two suites on the Queen Elizabeth 2, one for himself and one for a companion, and sailed to England, where he stayed in a suite at the Ritz Hotel, and then took the Concorde back to New York. He spent the last day of his life making up a list of people he wanted to be notified of his death and another list of people he did not want to be notified, one of these being the person who told me this story.
Barbara Jakobson said, "It was great to observe Robert and Sam together. Sam got such a kick out of Robert, and Robert allowed Sam to be indulgent. Sam was a Yankee with cement in his pocket, but he was very generous with Robert. Sam always meant for Robert to have his money. I was very unhappy over the publicity about the will after Sam died."
Another close woman friend of both men, who did not want to be named, said, "Robert was looking for a patron, and along came Sam. Sam made Robert's career. He showed Robert this other way of life. Robert was into learning more than anyone I ever knew. When Robert met Sam, all the doors opened for him. Sam was his sugar daddy in a way."
Most of Wagstaff's money came from his stepfather, Donald Newhall, who left him and his sister shares of the Newhall Land and Farming Company in California, which later went public. Over the years, Wagstaff sold off some of his shares to buy his art, photography, and silver collections. In his will he left bequests of $100,000 each to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, and the New York Public Library, as well as $10,000 and the family silver to his sister, Mrs. Jefferson, and $10,000 to each of her three children.
"She's enormously rich,'' said Mapplethorpe about Mrs. Jefferson. "She didn't need the money.''
"Then why did she contest the will?"
Mapplethorpe shrugged. "She needed entertainment," he said. In the long run, the litigation never went to trial; Wagstaff's sister decided against proceeding with the suit on the day of jury selection. Several subsequent lawsuits over Wagstaff's million-dollar silver collection, in which Mapplethorpe charged the New-York Historical Society with "fraudulent conduct" in obtaining a five-year loan of Wagstaff's silver as he lay dying, were settled out of court.
Mapplethorpe's lawyer, Michael Stout, who handles many prominent people in the creative arts, said about him, "Robert is the most astute businessman of any of my clients. If there is a decision to be made, he understands the issues and votes the right way."
Although I had known Sam Wagstaff for years, my contact with Robert Mapplethorpe was minimal, no more than an acquaintanceship, so I was surprised when he asked for me to write this article, and more surprised when he asked to photograph me. Two years ago, right after Sam Wagstaff died, when the rumors of litigation between his family and his heir over his will were rampant, I had thought of writing an article on the subject for this magazine. Mapplethorpe, however, let it be known through his great friend Suzie Frankfurt, the socialite interior decorator, that he did not wish me to write such a piece, and I immediately desisted. Later I saw him at the memorial service for Sam that was held at the Metropolitan Museum. Already ill himself, he made a point of thanking me for not writing the article.
I had met Mapplethorpe for the first time several years earlier, at a dinner given by the Earl of Warwick at his New York apartment. Although Mapplethorpe was then famous as a photographer, the celebrity that was so much a part of his persona was due equally to his reputation as a leading figure in the sadomasochistic subculture of New York. Indeed, he was the subject of endless stories involving dark bars and black men and bizarre behavior of the bondage and domination variety. He arrived late for the dinner, dressed for the post-dinner-party part of his night in black leather, and became in no time the focus of attention and unquestionably the star of Lord Warwick's party. He was at ease in his surroundings and, surprising to me, up on the latest gossip of the English smart set, telling stories in which Guinness and Tennant names abounded. When coffee was served, he took some marijuana and a package of papers out of his pocket, rolled a joint, lit it, inhaled deeply, all the time continuing a story he was telling, and passed the joint to the person on his right. It was not a marijuana-smoking group, and the joint was declined and passed on by each person to the next, except for one guest who, gamely, took a few tokes and then passed out at the table, after saying, "Strong stuff." Unperturbed, Mapplethorpe continued talking until it was time for his exit. After he was gone, those who remained talked about him.
Like everything else about Robert Mapplethorpe, the studio where he now lives and works on a major crosstown street in the Chelsea section of New York, which was also purchased for him by Wagstaff, is enormously stylish and handsomely done. In 1988 it was photographed by HG magazine, and Martin Filler wrote in the accompanying text, "Mapplethorpe's rooms revel in the pleasures of art for art's sake and reconfirm his aesthetic genealogy in a direct line of descent from Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley through Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau." There are things to look at in every direction, a mélange of objects and pictures, but everything has its place. Order and restraint prevail. "You create your own world," said Mapplethorpe. "The one that I want to live in is very precise, very controlled." It fits in with his personality that he pays his bills instantly on receiving them.
Each time we met, we sat in a different area. In the back sitting room of the floor-through loft space, the windows have elegant brown-black taffeta tieback curtains designed by Suzie Frankfurt, which seem both incongruous and not at all incongruous. Frankfurt, who maintains a complicated friendship with him, said, "Robert lives in the middle of a contradiction— part altar boy and part leather bar."' That day he was wearing a black dressing gown from Gianni Versace, the Italian designer, and his black velvet slippers.
At one point he went into a paroxysm of coughing, and from the look he gave me I realized he didn't want me to see him like that. "Would you excuse me for a minute," he said. I got up and went to another part of the apartment until he called me back.
"Oh, I'm so sick," he said. "I've been throwing up all night. The nights are awful."
"When did you first know you had AIDS?" I asked.
"It was diagnosed as AIDS two years ago in October."
"Did you suspect beforehand that you had it?"
"Every faggot suspects beforehand."
He said that he had two nurses on twelve-hour shifts that cost him a thousand dollars a day. "But I'm lucky. I have insurance." He has been on AZT almost from the beginning. He worries constantly about friends who are less fortunate, specifically his black friends. In a conversation with Marlies Black, who assembled the Rivendell Collection of modern art and photography, which contains the largest selection of Mapplethorpe's work in the world, he once said, "At some point I started photographing black men. It was an area that hadn't been explored extensively. If you went through the history of nude male photography, there were very few black subjects. I found that I could take pictures of black men that were so subtle, and the form was so photographical." Now, musing on that, he said, "Most of the blacks don't have insurance and therefore can't afford AZT. They all died quickly, the blacks. If I go through my Black Book, half of them are dead."
When I sat for him to be photographed, I was nervous, even though he had asked me to sit. It was on a day that he was not feeling well. He had not slept the night before. He coughed a great deal. His skin was very pale. We sat on a sofa and talked while Brian English, his assistant, set up the camera and chair where I would sit for the picture. Although ill, Mapplethorpe kept working most days. He showed me pictures he had taken a day or two before of the three-year-old daughter of the actress Susan Sarandon, and he had arranged to photograph Carolina Herrera, the dress designer, as soon as he was finished with me. I was talking about anything I could think of, mostly about people we both knew, to postpone the inevitable. Finally, I told him I was nervous. "Why?" he asked. "I just am," I said. "Don't be," he said quietly. I was struck as always by his grace and manners, which seemed such a contradiction to the image most people have of Robert Mapplethorpe. Finally Brian placed me in the chair, and Robert got up and walked very slowly over to where the Hasselblad camera was set up. He looked in the viewfinder. He asked Brian to move a light. He made an adjustment on a lens opening. "Look to the left," he said. "Keep your head there. Look back toward me with your eyes." He was in charge.
Another time, I remarked that he was looking better. He told me that he was finally able to eat something called TPN, a totally nutritious substance which gave him 2,400 calories a day. "I don't actually eat. I'm fed mostly by tube. If I hadn't found this, I'd be dead by now. I couldn't keep any food down." And then he said a line I heard him say over and over. "This disease is hideous."
"My biggest problem now is walking. I have neuropathy, like when your foot's asleep. It's constant. It's in my hands too. If it weren't for that, I'd go out." His eyes moved toward the window. "I'd like to go to Central Park to see the new zoo. And I'd like to go back to the Whitney to see the show. I hear there are lines of people to see it."
He was born in a middle-class suburban neighborhood called Floral Park, which is on the edge of Queens, New York, the third of six children in a Catholic family of English, German, and Irish extraction. His mother is a housewife. His father does electrical work. He went to a public school in Floral Park, but he would have preferred to go to the Catholic school, which his younger brothers went to. Although he now says that Floral Park was a perfect place for his parents to raise a family, early yearnings in nonconformist directions brought his family life to a halt. "I wanted to have the freedom to do what I wanted to do. The only way to do that was to break away. I didn't want to have to worry about what my parents thought. When I was sixteen, I went to college at the Pratt Institute. That was when I began to live elsewhere."
Except for his brother Edward, the youngest of the six, who was at the studio each time I was there, he has not been close to his family for years, although he said that they are "closer since I told them I was sick, which was not too long ago."
"Did your parents come to see your show at the Whitney?" I asked him.
He shook his head no. "They intend to," he said. Then he added, "But they have come to see me here."
While still in school, he began living with Patti Smith, whom he met in Brooklyn. Maxine de la Falaise McKendry remembered that when Robert first met Smith he kicked a hole through from his apartment to hers so that they could communicate better. "Patti and I built on each other's confidence. We were never jealous of each other's work. We inspired each other. She became recognized first. Then she had a record contract. She pushed ahead. There was a parallel happening to each career." Patti Smith, who is now married with two children, lives in Detroit. "We talk to each other all the time," he said.
"S&M is a certain percentage of Robert's work, and necessary to show to give a representation of his work," said Richard Marshall. He told me that when they put the exhibition together there had never been any idea of censorship, or any reservation about including offensive material, although, he added, "there are some stronger pictures which do exist, some more explicitly graphic pictures, the, uh, penetration of the arm." What Marshall was referring to was what Mapplethorpe calls his fist-fucking file. "Call Suzanne," he said to me, speaking of his lovely young secretary, Suzanne Donaldson, "and ask her, if you want to see the fist-fucking file, or the video of me having my tit pierced." When certain of these photographs were shown at an art gallery in Madrid, the gallery owner, who has since died of AIDS, was sent to jail.
"There were some letters of protest about the show, but not in great numbers at all," said Marshall. "We did put up signs in three or four locations, warning parents that the show might not be applicable for children."
Flora Biddle concurs. "I went on a tour of the show the night before it opened with the Whitney Circle, which is the highest category of membership. Richard Marshall talked about the pictures to the group, dealing with the pictures you could call the most sexual, and spoke beautifully about them. The people in the Circle were attentive and open to them. Afterwards, people came up and said they thought it was so wonderful the Whitney was hanging this show."
Barbara Jakobson said, "Sometimes I'd drive downtown in my yellow Volkswagen to have dinner with Robert. Then, later, I'd drop him off at the Mineshaft, or one of those places. God forbid he be seen having a woman drop him off, so I'd leave him a block away. I had no desire to see inside, but I once asked Robert to describe what it was like, in an architectural way. He said there were places of ritual. He told me how the rooms were divided, without telling me what actually went on. Once he showed me a sadomasochistic photograph. I said to him, 'I can't believe that a human being would allow this to be done.' He replied, 'The person who had it done wanted it to be done. Besides, he heals quickly.' Robert would find these people who enjoyed this. The interesting part is that they posed for him."
When I discussed this conversation with Mapplethorpe, he said, "I went to the Eagles Nest and the Spike to find models. Or I'd meet people from referrals. They'd hear you were good at such and such a thing, and call. I was more into the experience than the photography. The ones I thought were extraordinary enough, or the ones I related to, I'd eventually photograph."
"Were drugs involved?"
"Oh, yes. I've certainly had my share of drug experiences, but I don't need drugs to take pictures. They get in the way. However, drugs certainly played a big factor in sex at tnat time. MDA was a big drug in all this. It's somewhere between cocaine and acid.
"Most of the people in S&M were proud of what they were doing. It was giving pleasure to one another. It was not about hurting. It was sort of an art. Certainly there were people who were into brutality, but that wasn't my take. For me, it was about two people having a simultaneous orgasm. It was pleasure, even though it looked painful.
"Doing things to people who don't want it done to them is not sexy to me. The people in my pictures were doing it because they wanted to. No one was forced into it.
"For me S&M means sex and magic, not sadomasochism. It was all about trust."
"If his S&M work were heterosexual, it wouldn't be acceptable," I was told by a world-famous photographer who, because of Mapplethorpe's illness, did not wish to be quoted by name making critical remarks about him. "The smart society that has accepted this work has done so because it is so far removed from their own lives."
Even before the AIDS crisis, though, Mapplethorpe had begun to move away from the S&M scene as subject matter for his photography. One of his closest associates said to me, "Robert had gotten more and more away from being a downtown personality. He had been observing the uptown life for some time, and I think he wanted to become a society photographer. Once, leaving someone's town house on the Upper East Side, he said, 'I wouldn't mind living like that.' "
Carolina Herrera, the subject of one of Mapplethorpe's earliest and most celebrated society portraits, has known him for years, "long before he was famous." They met on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean in the early 1970s, when Herrera and her husband were guests of Princess Margaret, and Mapplethorpe, along with his English friend Catherine Tennant, was a guest of Tennant's brother Colin, who is now Lord Glenconner. Tennant remembers Mapplethorpe at the time wearing more ivory bracelets up his arms than the rebellious Nancy Cunard wore in the famous portrait Cecil Beaton took of her in 1927. When Mapplethorpe took Herrera's picture, in a hotel room in New York, he had only a minimum of photographic equipment and no assistant. Herrera's husband, Reinaldo, had to hold the silver umbrella reflector for him. Mapplethorpe photographed Herrera wearing a hat and pearls, against a blank ground, and since then his style in social portraiture has remained as stark as in his nude figures, mirroring the sculptural influence of Man Ray more than the ethereal settings of Cecil Beaton.
On Friday evening, November 4, of last year, Robert Mapplethorpe gave a large cocktail party at his studio to celebrate his forty-second birthday. Incidentally, November 4 was also the birthday of Sam Wagstaff. Birthday celebrations have always been important to Mapplethorpe, according to Barbara Jakobson. She remembered other birthday parties in the past that Sam had given for Robert. " 'Sam's going to give me a party,' Robert would say way in advance."
At the peak of the birthday party, nearly two hundred people milled through the vast studio, among them the film stars Susan Sarandon, Sigourney Weaver, and Gregory Hines, all of whom had been photographed by Mapplethorpe. In the crowd were Prince and Princess Michael of Greece, the Earl of Warwick, Tom Armstrong of the Whitney Museum, gallery owner Mary Boone, Bruce Mailman, who was a managerial partner in the St. Marks Baths until it was closed down in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, and Dimitri Levas, the art director and principal stylist on Mapplethorpe's fashion shoots, who is said to be one of his heirs, as well as well-known figures from the magazine, gallery, auction, and museum worlds. And collectors. And people who were just friends. Inevitably, there were men in black leather, some wearing master caps, standing on the sidelines, watching. Everyone mixed.
Everybody brought gifts, wonderfully wrapped, and soon there was a mountain of them on a bench by the front door. Bouquets of flowers kept arriving throughout the party, including one of three dozen white roses in a perfect crystal vase. Waiters in black jackets moved through the crowd, carrying trays of fluted glasses of champagne. On several tables were large tins of beluga caviar, and Robert kept leaning over and helping himself.
Although there was certainly a sense that this was Robert Mapplethorpe's farewell party for his friends, there were no feelings of sadness in the studio that night. Robert, continually indomitable, provided his guests with an upbeat and optimistic celebration. He looked better than he had looked in weeks. He sat in his favorite chair, missing nothing, receiving guest after guest who came and knelt by his side to chat with him. Toward the end of the evening, he stood up and walked.
"This is Robert. This is his life. Everybody beautiful. Everybody successful," said one of the guests whom I did not know.
"Robert has style," said Prince Michael of Greece, surveying the event. "Personal style is not something you learn. It's something you have."
One of the most frequently asked questions these days is where Robert Mapplethorpe will leave his money when he dies. His lawyer, Michael Stout, refused to answer that question. But it is known that the photographer has recently set up the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, with a board of directors. Besides specific bequests to friends, the foundation will probably give money to the arts as well as to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), an organization with which Mapplethorpe has been associated since Sam Wagstaff s death. In a letter he sent out asking friends and acquaintances to pay $100 each to attend a private viewing of Sam Wagstaff's silver collection prior to its sale at Christie's in January, he wrote, "I have asked AmFAR to use the funds raised from this benefit to support community-based trials of promising AIDS drugs, a pilot program which will greatly increase patient access to treatments that may help extend their lives."