MAPPLETHORPE: A Biography by Patricia Morrisroe
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A rivetingly detailed, unforgivingly blunt biography of the photographer whose celebrity portraits and depictions of the sadomasochistic gay subculture ignited public controversy. More voyeuristic titillation than serious art historical examination, Morrisroe's study of Mapplethorpe (1946--1989) gains credibility from her exhaustive research: The New York--based journalist interviewed the artist about his life on numerous occasions before his death from AIDS, spoke at length to former lovers and art world associates, and won the confidence of his long-estranged parents. The book opens with heavy irony at Mapplethorpe's Catholic funeral in Floral Park, Queens, the artist's boyhood home. His youth was an awkward period of slow self-discovery in the shadow of a gregarious older brother and domineering father. At Brooklyn's Pratt Institute in the '60s, the ROTC cadet blossomed into an acid-eating hippie art student. He soon found his muse in aspiring rock poet Patti Smith; the pair moved to Manhattan and held court from the Chelsea Hotel. The author depicts Mapplethorpe as a conniving seducer who wrote his own ticket to the art world by winning the love and support of Sam Wagstaff, a prominent and monied photography collector. With his patronage, Mapplethorpe flourished, turning his personal fascinations into compelling photo series, most frequently of gay S&M rituals, black men, bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, eroticized flowers, and celebrities. Morrisroe treats Mapplethorpe as a kind of sexualized social savant with a magic touch, making much ado of his shameless career manipulations pitting galleries and power players against one another. Pathos comes to the fore in the chapters on the '80s, in which the dying artist achieves ever-greater levels of fame and controversy. Rich in sharp observation and risqu‚ revelation, an immorality tale that shamelessly mines Mapplethorpe's sad legacy for all it's worth.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0306807661
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Random