Exhibition of Kinsey Institute Mapplethorpe collection opens at the Grunwald Gallery

Today the doors open on “Robert Mapplethorpe: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute Collection” at Indiana University’s Grunwald Gallery.

As an artist, Mapplethorpe pursued a range of subjects, from delicate flowers and portraits to classical nudes and raw sexual scenes.

The black-and-white photographs in this show are not the delicate flowers.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Frank Diaz

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Frank Diaz,’ 1980 ©The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission. Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute®

“These important and challenging photographs not only reflect the art and time of Robert Mapplethorpe, they are also a reminder that The Kinsey Institute serves as safe haven for controversial collections,” said Jennifer Bass, the institute’s director of communications.

Presented jointly by the Grunwald Gallery and The Kinsey Institute, the exhibition features 30 photographs that were a gift from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in 2011.

“It is extremely gratifying to have the opportunity to show the work of this important photographer,” said Betsy Stirratt, director of the gallery and co-curator of the show. “The Grunwald Gallery has a long history of working with the Kinsey Institute. Our first collaboration goes back to 1994, with an exhibit of the photographs of George Platt Lynes.”

Opening night

The exhibition officially begins with the lecture “Robert Mapplethorpe, Sam Wagstaff, and the Gay Sensibility” at 5 p.m. in Room 102 of the Hope School of Fine Arts. An opening reception will follow in the gallery from 6 to 8 p.m.

“We are very fortunate to have New York writer Philip Gefter in Bloomington to speak about Robert Mapplethorpe and his longtime partner, Sam Wagstaff, an influential photography collector,” said co-curator Catherine Johnson-Roehr of The Kinsey Institute.

“Mapplethorpe was a pioneer in bringing attention and respect to the homoerotic in photography,” said Gefter, a photography critic who wrote for The New York Times for 15 years and later for The Daily Beast.

Gefter’s soon-to-be-published book, “Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe: A Biography,” examines the lives of the two men “who together and individually had a substantial impact on contemporary photography and gay culture in the 1970s and ’80s,” Johnson-Roehr said.

Beyond controversy

Many years have passed since Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989 and his retrospective exhibition that ignited public dialogues and political battles.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Embrace

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Embrace,’ 1982 ©The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission. Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute®

“The images of Robert Mapplethorpe at one time were controversial, but the world has changed quite a bit since ‘The Perfect Moment,'” Stirratt said. “Images of all kinds are available online to whoever chooses to find them.”

The photographs in the current Mapplethorpe exhibition remain documents of the time in which they were created, reflecting a period between the sexual revolution and the AIDS crisis.

“Visitors may be challenged by the material, but they also will see these in the context of 1980s America,” Bass said.

Items addressing the controversy around Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment” retrospective and the culture wars of the early 1990s also are displayed in the show.

Still, Stirratt said she hopes visitors will look at the Mapplethorpe photographs as art rather than artifact. “I hope that viewers might be able to see beyond the cultural significance of the pictures to appreciate their aesthetic qualities.”

Beyond Mapplethorpe

Along with the Mapplethorpe collection, The Grunwald Gallery will unveil two other photography shows.

The companion exhibition “Beyond Mapplethorpe” also draws upon the extensive Kinsey Institute collection, featuring work by Mapplethorpe’s contemporaries and other major photographers working along similar themes.

Greg Louganis by Herb Ritts

Herb Ritts, ‘Greg Louganis, Hollywood,’ 1985 ©The Herb Ritts Foundation. Used by permission. Courtesy of The Kinsey Institute®

Johnson-Roehr said the show’s curators are delighted to exhibit 22 photographs, including two recently acquired prints by French artist Bettina Rheims. Also included are six works by George Platt Lynes, who Johnson-Roehr described as an artist “who dared to photograph the male body long before that was acceptable for fine artists.” Other featured artists who explore masculinity in their work include Arthur Tress, Len Prince, Tom Bianchi and Herb Ritts, she said.

In an adjacent room, the unconventional still life photographs of Chicago-based artist Laura Letinsky also will be displayed. Her large-scale color works capture scenes of half-devoured meals and other detritus from eating and life. Letinsky’s work is presented as part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ “Eat, Drink, Think: Food from Art to Science” Themester program.

“Robert Mapplethorpe: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute Collection” and “Beyond Mapplethorpe” will continue at the Grunwald Gallery through Nov. 22. The exhibitions have been made possible by The College Arts and Humanities Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Sociology, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and others.

“Laura Letinsky: Still Life Photographs (1997-2012)” will remain on display through Nov. 20.

For further information, contact the Grunwald Gallery at 812-855-8490 or grunwald@indiana.edu. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday. All events are free and open to the public.

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