An Oeuvre shaped by the Buyers’ Tastes? The Impact of Compromises on the Reception of Robert Mapplethorpe’s Work

Jonathan Maho


Available for scholars at the Getty Research Institute since 2013, the “Robert Mapplethorpe Archive” belongs to the institution’s most noteworthy additions of the last decade. The gift made two years earlier by the R. Mapplethorpe Foundation was significant on at least two counts: for the amount and diversity of the material granted, and for the presence of many unique, rarely seen artworks. The archive notably includes many polaroids but also collages, hand painted photographs, as well as photo transfers by emulsion. The material held in Los Angeles makes thus one thing clear: the notorious Robert Mapplethorpe — a photographer who, as one might think, needs no introduction — can still be considered as an understudied artist. 

His choices regarding the art market might explain a few things. This article proposes to study the compromises that Mapplethorpe made, and their incidence on the reception of his art. Based on his archive, but also on interviews and on his private correspondence, this paper argues that the changes operated in the late 1970s to please art dealers and art collectors impacted not only the way he worked, but also the way his achievement was to be read.


Mapplethorpe; photography

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