Robert Mapplethorpe’s Y Portfolio

Two black and white photos hang beside each other on the wall. Each depict close up views of flowers.

Installation view, Robert Mapplethorpe’s Y Portfolio, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2007-2008.

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Robert Mapplethorpe
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Throughout his body of work, Robert Mapplethorpe interrogates classical notions of beauty, a concern which surfaces as much in his flower imagery as in his infamous nude portraits and photographs of pop icons.

On view in The Dean’s Gallery are thirteen examples of Mapplethorpe’s early studies of flowers, known as the Y Portfolio. Throughout his career, Mapplethorpe photographed flowers in order to develop his skills with the camera and lighting techniques, and to illustrate more classical ideas of beauty. The exhibition presents images, from negatives made in 1977 and 1978. Much of Mapplethorpe’s other works, specifically his X Portfolio and his Z Portfolio, have been controversial due to their explicit content, but the subtlety of the works on view often resonates more powerfully, possibly because of what is suggested but not shown.

About the Artist

Born in 1946 in New York City, Robert Mapplethorpe is one of the most prominent and skillful photographers of the 20th Century.  Though initially trained in painting and sculpture, Mapplethorpe has focused on the medium of photography since the mid 1970’s. He passed away due to complications from AIDS in 1989, at the age of 42.