Robert Mapplethorpe


silver gelatin print
20 x 16 inches
edition of 10 + 2 AP

Robert Mapplethorpe’s striking images of women show an incredible range of subjects, from pop culture icons (Patti Smith on her album cover for Horses) to wry portraits (Louise Bourgeois grinning while holding a phallus sculpture) to beautiful studies of the human form, seen here in this 1984 work. Lydia Cheng was a female bodybuilder in the 1980s, as the sport was gaining mainstream exposure, and was featured in the film Pumping Iron II: The Women which showed its subjects preparing for a contest (Arnold Schwarzenegger famously starred in the first Pumping Iron). In Mapplethorpe’s photo, however, she appears less as a muscle-bound athlete, and more as a finely-toned swimmer or dancer. The grace and elegance of her form are conveyed through Mapplethorpe’s characteristic use of contrasting light and dark values, combined with a sensuous range of greys, and it is through his unique vision that the power and beauty of Cheng’s form are undeniably present. During his lifetime, Mapplethorpe participated in Documenta 6 in 1977, and The Whitney Museum of American Art held his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, a year before his death. In 2013, exhibitions of his work were held simultaneously at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center.