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Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition Opens
Jacob Matham after Hendrick Goltzius, The Graces, 16th century. Engraving. 11 5/16 x 8 1/8 inches. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. OG-31079. © 2005 State Hermitage Museum.

NEW YORK, NY.-The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints. This exhibition will explore the relationship between the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and classical art, in particular through 16th century Flemish Mannerist engravings. Among the first collaborations between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, the project is co-organized by Germano Celant, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, and Arkady Ippolitov, Curator of Italian Prints at the Hermitage. The exhibition premiered at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin from July 24 to October 17, 2004, subsequently traveling to the Hermitage and then the Moscow House of Photography before its final venue at the Guggenheim in 2005. The exhibition will remain on view through August 24, 2005.

An international movement and style that spread to France and Northern Europe, Mannerism developed in the 16th century with roots in Italian art, specifically that of Raphael. Referred to as “the stylish style,” it is characterized by compositional, emotional, and narrative elements that shift away from the median of harmony and equilibrium embodied by the art of the High Renaissance. An exceptional selection of Mannerist works from the Hermitage collection will be paired with superb photographs by Mapplethorpe from the collections of the Guggenheim and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. A small selection of sculptures will also be on view, illustrating Mapplethorpe's interest in and passion for the human figure. The exhibition will exemplify Mapplethorpe's rapport with the elongated and elaborate forms of Mannerist art, namely the study of the human body, highlighting the underlying classicism evident in the clarity and potency of all Mapplethorpe's subjects as well as their explosive energy. The classical ideal was not only a poetic inspiration but also an ethical model, and in his creative quest Mapplethorpe described photography as “the perfect way to make a sculpture.” The potency of love and Eros, which electrifies many of the Mannerist works in the exhibition, is articulated again in the work of Mapplethorpe. The vital anatomical forms of his portraits of models, such as bodybuilder Lisa Lyons and the statuesque Derrick Cross, find their roots in antiquity, and in this exhibition find their mirror in such Mannerist prints as Jan Harmensz Muller's Rape of a Sabine Woman and Jacob Matham's Apollo.

An illustrated catalogue with essays by the curators accompanies the exhibition. Ippolitov is the author of numerous articles on the relationship between European old masters and Russian art; Celant has published extensively on Mapplethorpe and the rich art historical past referenced in the photographer's work. Ippolitov discusses the obsession that defines both the work of Mapplethorpe and the Mannerists. Mythological and allegorical themes are explored as well as an examination of the pursuit of the ideal and its ultimate expression: death. Celant's text further explores the influence of art historical styles on Mapplethorpe's artistic practice and sensibility, illuminating the artist's interest in the study of pure form as well as allegorical imagery. Through both word and image, the catalogue also traces Mapplethorpe's complex relationship to the history of art more broadly, ranging from neoclassicism to Surrealism, with comparisons to the work of Jacques-Louis David, Antonio Canova, Auguste Rodin, Man Ray, and others. In this light, an additional essay, by Guggenheim Project Curator Jennifer Blessing, traces allegorical representations in the history of 19th- and 20th-century photography, with references to Mapplethorpe's oeuvre. Blessing discusses examples of highly stylized, theatrical, and antinaturalistic scenes and portraits, suggesting that these mannered images are determined by the clash between the idealistic intent of their makers and the realism of photographic representation.

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