Mapplethorpe Newspaper Clippings Analysis: a homage to Charles’ NPG adventure

1st section: before the library card
Lots of in-depth photo analysis

Mapplethorpe: the person
Trained as a sculptor
“The contemporary equivalent of a court painter to an American avant-garde rooted in new music and the visual arts”
“Reflects the values underlying New York intellectual fashion in the late 1970s and early 1980s”
Mapplethorpe: the art

2nd section: the exhibition photos
Photos of the exhibition room/gallery 25/3 – 19/6/88 National Portrait Gallery (the layout of which apparently Mapplethorpe helped to design; photos of his choosing)

Mapplethorpe’s work connected with people; drew a human/emotional response
Dining table with two chairs beside and flowers on top, surrounded by a room of faces
Providing a very human experience of the gallery
It’s like you’re surrounded by others looking in while eating lunch at the table…

3rd section: the NPG poster and Observer Magazine
Very positive representations of Mapplethorpe; ‘elevative’

Portrayal/association with very flattering/caters to influential members of the high-art scene
NPG: very bold black/white poster, subject of a white, silver-haired male under a spotlight halo
Observer magazine 20/3/88 Headline photograph: Silver haired businessman with a two-piece suit; just the sort to frequent the high-art scene
Tagged: “MANHATTAN’S COURT PHOTOGRAPHER” – by appointment to the beautiful people; flattering indeed
Subjects: old man seated on expensive chair with expensive art in the background
Young men in their prime: Iggy Pop
Beautiful, youthful-looking, powerful women: Doris Saatchi
Mother playing with child: Susan and Eva Sarandon
Completely fails to mention his sexual orientation; instead glamorises him to a particular London audience (observer magazine readers!)
“Mapplethorpe has done portraits of porn stars, philosophers, rock singers, socialites and bodybuilders.”
Highlight those most famed in society; Manhattan’s court photographer, after all…
To be fair: ‘equally comfortable photographing the rituals of sadomasochism or capturing the flawless beauty of a white rose.’
Glamorises Mapplethorpe; positive light; appeals to the rich and influential; but what’s missing?
Flattering text written about Mapplethorpe:
“What cannot be denied is the power of Mapplethorpe’s images”
“Hardcore visionary, arch-darling of the New York art scene, inventor of the $15,000 platinum-on-linen print” – expensive!
Mapplethorpe doesn’t wish to be categorised; an amorphous being/entity
“I’m very difficult to categorise. That’s the way it should be. I never wanted one set of pictures to dominate the others.”

4th section – City Limits and Face magazine
Great City Limits analysis looking at both facets of his person

Face: photography guru
“I only wanted to make a statement and photography ended up being the vehicle.”
Sense of mystery
Mapplethorpe’s best photographs ‘retain a hint of amorality (not immorality). They make us nervous by confronting us with mystery.’

5th section – general news clippings

Timeout really does a great job

Ignorance/lack of consideration for the less ‘sexy’ aspects of Mapplethorpe; underlying censorship; only portraying his good side!
Lack of mention of HIV/AIDS with Mapplethorpe’s ‘fame’
Piece by Timeout 16-23 1988 on how HIV/AIDS not mentioned in BBC Arena documentary despite it being common knowledge
Programme-makers also silent on the ‘glaring oversight’
Outright rudeness towards the topic
Telegraph even jokes by asking for someone to write his obituary; distasteful, disrespectful, not taking seriously
“The sexual nature of Mapplethorpe’s work has always made him a difficult subject for the media and telly in particular.”
Photos: Black man and hands and naked female nude

Portrait of the Artist – Evening standard magazine 3/88
Written to appeal to the people
“For all you amateur photographers out there who tend to remove Aunty’s head, Dad’s left arm and most of the kids’ bodies from the prints in the family album, take heart.”
“Because even the pros can achieve the same results.”
Glamorising Mapplethorpe while hiding his homosexuality and AIDS/HIV
“One-man show by Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘undoubtedly one of the most brilliant photographers of his generation’…collection of high-flying subjects includes Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, … and Lord Snowdon.”
Photo: Lord Snowdon

The bare facts on Mapplethorpe (‘exposing’ him, without HIV/AIDS) – The Times 18/3/88
Highlights his controversy; as an artist and not a homosexual
First paragraph: “America’s most controversial photographer.”
Evidence of many of his images being shown as blank spaces in Arena doc
“So controversial that many of his pictures are considered unsuitable for showing on television and we have to make do with a series of blank spaces, with just captions to feed our imagination.”
Good quote: “One strand of critical opinion claims that he has raised the male nude to the status it enjoyed in classical painting. To others, he titillates the art world with pornography (Independent!).”
Photo: leather jacket Robert with cigarette; rugged, cool, and masculine

Mapplethorpe Portraits – IMAGE 3/88
Addresses the politics of Mapplethorpe’s art
Clause 28 will effectively prevent certain photographic exhibitions (such as Mapplethorpe’s) from being shown in Local Authority funded galleries and public libraries
It would unlawful to ‘promote’ homosexuality – thus producing a censorship of the arts, which was presumably not intended when the bill was drafted.
Photo: white and black man; unity

A photographer in view – The Independent 18/3/88
It’s a briefing; good information and overview of views
NPG: play-safe portraits
Hamilton Gallery: still-lifes and nudes
Black model Ken Moody: “the gifts of his [Mapplethorpe] images to his subjects.”
Photo: leather jacket with cigarette, captioned “Robert Mapplethorpe: parodied self-image in a leather jacket.”

Appropriation of Mapplethorpe in the London context: reception and censorship

‘I am very difficult to categorize’ said Robert Mapplethorpe in the interviewer with the journalist from The Observer (30 October 1983). As it seems, the British reception of his photography also expresses this difficulty with categorizing and defining his images. Some such as Francis Hodgson stated that he ‘may or may not be a very fine photographer’ (2 April 1988, Spectator, ‘Hot Shots’). Others like London’s Saudi Gazette (9 November 1988) said that he ‘is one of the most brilliant photographers of his generation’. This divergence in opinions is the reason why it is important to analyse the reception of Mapplethorpe’s photography in London in 1988. It seems that some information about himself and his pictures were censored.This appropriation of his persona was done by:

1. Using vague language in descriptions of his images

  • In the Memorandum of Agreement drawn between Mapplethorpe and the National Portrait Gallery, in the Warranty section it is written:
    RM warrants to the NPG that the photographs are original works and will be in no way whatsoever a violation of any existing copyright, that they will not contain anything obscene, libellous or defamatory.’
    This phrasing suggests that NPG wanted to show just a certain uncontroversial facet of Mapplethorpe’s photography
  • National Portrait Gallery’s Press Notice – when mentioning Hamilton Gallery’s exhibition, NPG says that it is an ‘exhibition of still-life and previously unseen work”. No mention of nudes! The Times (24 March 1988) in its description of Hamilton’s exhibition also doesn’t mention that nudes are exhibited there
  • The Independent, 26 March 1988 ‘ Totems and taboos’
    ‘originally notorious for his photographs of men doing things – usually outre things in black leather – to other men…’ – failure to call homosexuality and S&M by its name.

2. Censoring the content of his photography:

  • a photograph called Rosie representing a two or three years old girl without knickers was confiscated by HM Customs and Exercises on the grounds of obscenity under the Customs Consolidation Act 1876
  • Robin Gibson (curator) when starting organising the exhibition offered that the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition could possibly consist of at least 50% portraits (of known people and some children portraits) and the rest still lifes and some nudes. WHY wasn’t the rest included? Gallery’s self-censorship?
  • Arena; in Fame and notoriety – REVIEW it is said that censoring of some pictures form BBC documentary was rather Nigel Finch’s self-censorship than imposed by the BBC.

3. Intellectualizing his art 

  • BBC News Release – writing on Arena – first ever television film profile on Robert Mapplethorpe – connects Mapplethorpe’s photography with tropes from high art:

    ‘Mapplethorpe’s nudes recall the great icons of classical painting and sculpture. As the most successful photographer of our times his work has been instrumental in the restoration of the nude to a primary place in mainstream art.’

    writing about his photography in a way so it fits the idea of high art. Trying to justify that it does belong to a gallery. Assumption that he pursues ‘classical themes’.

  • Gentlemen, Sep/Nov 1988 talks about intellectualisation of Mapplethorpe’s pictures:
    ‘Culture buffs say training as a sculptor and an exceptional understanding of light and form elevate his pictures to the status of fine art.’

4. Not mentioning his illness or sexual orientation in newspapers/catalogs (censoring some aspects of his life)

  • During his visit in Britain in 1988 no newspaper mentions his illness or his sexual orientation. Only when he is away (so the idea that because he is no longer in Britain he doesn’t pose any threat to the social status quo/orthodoxy), The Guardian (30 August 1988) says: “Mapplethorpe got out of the hospital to attend the opening of the Whitney (America) show, but had to go right back that same night. He has Aids, and is, reportedly now in intensive care.’
  • In the British context he was never portrayed as having Aids while exhibiting in London. The first references to his illness appear in his obituaries:

    11 March 1989, Daily Telegraph, Obituary – mentions his illness at the end
    11 March 1989, The Guardian, Obituary – Art of making shock chick – at the beginning mentions him having died of Aids, also stating that he was bisexual.

    (These two examples also show hoe depending on the political inclinations, the newspapers introduce the content/facts in a different way)

Instead, numerous newspapers focus on his notoriety by mentioning the film Robert having his Nipple Pierced (Chelsea Hotel, 1970). This was meant to show his controversial and audacious facet. Playing it safe without mentioning his more ‘audacious’ facet. Also the narrative focuses on the money surrounding Mapplethorpe. Not only he photographs the icons of financial success (famous writer, artists, models etc) but also his photographs cost extortionate sums.
1. Portraying wealth:

  • BBC, Critics Forum broadcasted on April 9th 1988 on Radio 3
    John Carey: ‘I found it a deeply repellant exhibition. It seemed to me to carry a strong air of wealthy people dressing up and showing off. (…) when I went down from seeing it on the Tube and someone had scrawled across Mapplethorpe’s face ‘RICH BASTARD’ which I thought was a very apt critical comment.’In fact a lot of newspaper, by introducing Mapplethorpe, they enclosed info about ‘his photographs fetching on average $25,000 a piece’. This shows that the role of money was an important element in understanding Mapplethorpe’s work.

2. Reception:

  • The Standard 24 March 1988, Vulgar Factions
    In his photos ‘art came as close as it could to nature.’ In this article Paul Barker, having seen both London exhibitions, comments that the pictures show his misapplied talent. He calls his art kitsch and remarks that ‘a photograph of a rose could have come from a chocolate box’.

A Day at the Archives, Ep. 2: National Portrait Gallery

Last Thursday, I was able to make an appointment to visit the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive on Orange Street off of Trafalgar Square. I was visiting NPG 59/1/93 and 32/178/1–3, all of which constitute the institutions preservation of material relating to their ‘Mapplethorpe Portrait’ – the first solo Mapplethorpe exhibition in the UK and the only in his lifetime – open from 25 March to 19 June 1988.

This includes a proof copy of the original poster that lined the escalators of the Tube, images taken of the exhibition space, a notebook of news clippings bursting at its spiral and correspondences between those in charge of logistics namely Robin Gibson (NPG Curator, 20th Century Department) and Alexandra Knaust (Representative of Mapplethopre’s New York Studio).

Close but no cigar!


These resources, which I do not have the right to publish online, will be invaluable to our project and specifically how to understand Mapplethorpe’s popular reception this cultural moment.



Document AB – Final Supervisor Meeting


During our final supervised meeting today we discussed the ways in which we could improve on our presentation and prepare for questions that may arise during the Q&A session that follows.

We identified the gaps in our presentation as:

  • how do all the topics we will be discussing (geological representations, mass media, film and social media) answer the research question we have formulated?
  • why are the case studies chosen relevant and how are they all useful in answering the research question?
  • reflecting on the research process, how do are the topics relevant to each other?

These questions that Conor raised during our supervision were helpful in aiding during our group meeting in directing us to ensure our presentation is cohesive and answers any possible questions that may arise during the Q&A session.

We were also advised to ensure our presentation is concise due to the strict time limit. Approximately 3 minutes per person exclusive of the introduction and conclusion.

During our group meeting, we went on to look into formulating a hypothesis and conclusion that would be able to answer the question in relation to each of our subtopics.

We formulated the hypothesis;

The challenges posed by the structural frameworks of different forms of media and the strive of each to appeal to specific audiences shows that media documentation struggles to fully represent the extent and complexity of the geological documentation of climate change.

We agreed that the hypothesis would be relevant to all our subtopics as well as incorporating media theory, as it is our main focus in this presentation. We then began to discuss how we would all coherently discuss the ways media theory is relevant to our subtopics; ensuring that the question is answered by all subtopics and we do not stray from the question, theory and hypothesis.

Individually we have all done relevant research on how media theory affects our topic thus we began to discuss how each of our subtopics is correlational. This ensured us to create a presentation with clear pointers of collaborative effort rather than a presentation which combined 4 separate subtopics.

We agreed to continue working towards the deadline on Friday to finish the final draft of the presentation, allowing us the weekend to practice and summarise our points for our presentation on Monday.

TV documentary – Arena: Robert Mapplethorpe (1988)

Another interesting source that can be used in our research is Arena: Robert Mapplethorpe a TV documentary created by BBC2 and co-edited by Nigel Finch. It was released March 18th, 1988 before the opening of Mapplethorpe’s exhibitions in the National Portrait Gallery and Hamiltons Gallery in London.

According to The Guardian ‘The documentary traces the development of the photographer’s career, from his Brooklyn art student times in the 60s, to early notoriety cause by his underground movie Robert Having His Nipple Pierced and his emergence as style arbiter and chronicler/recorder of the smart gay world of Manhattan’.

Many articles found by Charles in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery notice that the documentary doesn’t address certain issues such as the fact that Mapplethorpe was dying of AIDS.

The Guardian(19 March 1988)also remarks that ‘ Finch, raises issues of suitability of certain pictures for public display by leaving some blank screens with only a title of a picture, its date and the message ‘Considered unsuitable for transmission”. This self-censorship of Nigel Finch shows his awareness that Mapplethorpe’s images could cause backlash, but also demonstrate his familiarity with BBC practices of censoring controversial material (the same happened with song Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood).

Another perspective is presented in the article ‘Totems and taboos’ published in The Independent(26 March 1988). It is said that it is a ‘very self-indulgent documentary that billed Mapplethorpe as ‘America’s most controversial photographer’. The truth is that, in post Clause 28 London, anyone who, once upon a time, “promoted homosexuality” appears controversial here.

Mapplethorpe and his London exhibitions in 1988

‘The new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is something of a coup’  reported London Weekly Diary of Social Eventson 27 March 1988. The note captures complex feelings relating to the reception of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography exhibited in London. Frequently seen as obscene and outrageous due to his pornographical pictures, this American photographer was one of the leading themes in the cultural debates in 1988 London.

It was a times when London hosted two exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography.

National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition  (March 25 – June 19 1988 )
The first major British gallery to mount a one-man show of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work and first anywhere to stage an exhibition devoted exclusively to his portrait photographs. Primarily Robin Gibson (Curator of the exhibition leading 20th Century Department of NPG) suggested that the exhibition should contain at least 50% portraits (mostly of popularly recognisable people and some children pictures) and the rest could be made up of still-lifes and nudes. However, the final exhibition contained 96 portraits from the period between 1976 and 1988. These photos represent one facet of Mapplethorpe’s work namely his role as a semi-official portrait artist to the rich, famous and fashionable people of New York.

1. Censorship –  a photograph called Rosie representing a two or three years old girl without knickers was confiscated by HM Customs and Exercises on the grounds of obscenity under the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 (link to the photo: )


2. Criticism of exhibiting wealth

  • BBC, Critics Forum broadcasted on April 9th 1988 on Radio 3
    John Carey: ‘I found it a deeply repellant exhibition. It seemed to me to carry a strong air of wealthy people dressing up and showing off. (…) when I went down from seeing it on the Tube and someone had scrawled across Mapplethorpe’s face ‘RICH BASTARD’ which I thought was a very apt critical comment.’In fact a lot of newspaper, by introducing Mapplethorpe, they enclosed info about ‘his photographs fetching on average $25,000 a piece’. This shows that the role of money was an important element in understanding Mapplethorpe’s work.

3. Criticising the emotionally removed models that makes their appearance  sculpture-like

  • BBC, Critics Forumbroadcasted on April 9th 1988 on Radio 3
    John Carey: ‘[his composition is chilly], it is turning people partly into sculptures (…), into shapes that I indeed find sinister and insidious. (…) I mean faces are photographs though they seem like masks being held up  (…) or people are turned into statues.’

Hamiltons Gallery’s exhibition (March 25 – April 23 1988
The exhibition presented photos selected personally by Mapplethorpe showing his recent works of still lifes and nudes.

1. Incapacity to name homosexual erotic acts in an explicit manner

  • The Independent, 26 March 1988 ‘ Totems and taboos’
    ‘originally notorious for his photographs of men doing things – usually outre things in black leather – to other men…’
  • The Times, 24 March 1988
    The texts doesn’t mention that in Hamiltons Gallery not  only still-life photographs are exhibited but also nudes.

2. Seeing Mapplethorpe’s photographs as kitsch

  • The Standard 24 March 1988, Vulgar Factions 
    In his photos ‘art came as close as it could to nature.’ In this article Paul Barker, having seen both London exhibitions, comments that the pictures show his misapplied talent. He calls his art kitsch and remarks that ‘a photograph of a rose could have come from a chocolate box’.

Introductory Framework of Our Group Presentation

Overarching topic – Positive reception of Mapplethorpe’s works documented in the change of homosexually in the 1980s — > Analyzing the impact of Mapplethorpe’s works in London in the representation or inception of homosexuality in pop. culture

  • Change in sentiment might be harder to grasp
  • Representation may be more objective

Intro: Evidence of Mapplethorpe’s well receptiveness/ reception

  • Frame it so that it is surprising that Mapplethorpe was well-received
  • [Primary Source] Book
  • How MappleThorpe got highly acclaimed?

*Not commenting all homosexuality in the U.K.; specifically the subversive culture (can be broaden out to be general)

Theme: Democratizing leveling landscape

  • Help integrate people into a more normalized people’s mind
  • Hollanhurst says that Mapplethorpe’s camera does not flinch, unapologetic identity

Analyzing Mapplethorpe’s photography — > transitioning into explaining Mapplethorpe’s works’ impact

Introductory Framework –

  1. We believe that there needs to be said in regards to homosexuality in the 1980s that could be easily overlooked
  2. It is surprising that Mapplethorpe was successful in London

Showing that there has been such exerted effort to bring Robert Mapplethorpe into a cannon of artists

There’s a lot about him in New York but not in London, although he has a very influential impact

Academic discourse – elevating him into high-art and his integration with gay culture

  • Literature or the London Cultural Movement

A Day at the Archives, ep. I: Tate Britain

I am now a Tate Britain Archive Reader!

One of the areas we identified as needing greater support was Mapplethorpe’s immediate reception. I was a bit overwhelmed by the many routes that my archival research could take and I realised I had to narrow my scope if I wanted to have a productive and efficient time in the archives. My goal was to find primary material that related directly to how Mapplethorpe’s exhibitions were received in London in terms of the homosexual content.

The item I was most excited to examine was the Institute of Contemporary Arts’ catalogue from Mapplethorpe’s first solo exhibition in the UK from 1983. In addition to providing high-quality reproductions of the selected photographs displayed in the exhibition, it was prefaced with an essay by Alan Hollinghurst. This to me was an invaluable source as it can help us to observe how Mapplethorpe was interpreted by Hollinghurst as an emerging homosexual Londoner artist and what values he takes away from Mapplethorpe.

‘There is nothing here of the hungry fascination and mastered revulsion of Diane Arbus’s photographs of the bizarre. Mapplethrope’s pictures are, with all naturalness, an account of a world in which he was himself involved; they gain their éclat from his instinct for what, purely in terms of subject-matter, was both personally important to him and rivetingly new in the world of photography. A picture such as Bobby and Larry Kissing is important not only for itself but as perhaps the first time such a subject had been photographed.’

from Alan Hollinghurst, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1970–1983 (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1983)  p. 14.

Hollinghurst goes on the write, among others, The Swimming Pool Library (1988) and The Line of Beauty (2004) which deal extensively with homosexuality and privilege – themes which he comments on in the 1983 exhibition catalogue. What conclusions we will draw from this is a question we are still fleshing out, but I think this primary resource will prove to be a very useful and insightful document for us.

Historical Context of Homosexuality in the 1980s including Robert Mapplethorpe and his Works

In regards to our meeting on Monday along with what we have established priory as an agreed decision, we have started to narrow down and share our own individual findings. As our research topic covers the inception of Robert Mapplethorpe’s works in the United Kingdom and its capture of the emotions towards homosexuality in the 1980s, I have first analyzed homosexuality in the relevant context of the 1980s at a global, national, and local scale.

Furthermore, I have also researched Robert Mapplethorpe, his relevant works depicting homosexuality, and the historical context during the period of when he has published most of his works. There are seven total works among Mapplethorpe’s works in the form of photography that I have found, each examined meticulously in terms of its individual, obscure and apparent details, in which the concept of homosexuality is apparent and the period when the work was released is also relevant –  Photography by Robert Mapplethorpe (1975), Two men dancing (1984), Ken Moody and Robert Sherman (1984), Thomas (1987), Joe (1978), Larry and Bobby Kissing (1979), and Ken Moody (1983). Therefore, I have listed each of them, along with the historical context of homosexuality in the 1980s, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the specific events encircling him during the period, in the google doc link below: