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.

 

 

Censorship

One theme I thought of which could tie together a wide range of disciplines while still relating to our theme of ‘Document’ was censorship.

My initial question was in what way does censorship obstruct the process of documentation.

The first example that came to mind was Allegri’s 17th-century setting to Psalm 51 Miserere Mei, Deus.

King’s College Choir, Allegri’s Miserere Mei [YouTube video], King’s College Choir, Cambridge, 20 February 2015 <youtube.com/watch?v=IX1zicNRLmY> [accessed 23 January 2019]

The composition which has been played in the Sistine Chapel since its creation was not allowed to be transcribed and was thus limited to only the Vatican. As the apocryphal story goes, Mozart upon visiting the Sistine Chapel with his father was able to later transcribe the piece my memory thus leading to the propagation of the now standard liturgical piece (Emily Anderson, The Letters of Mozart and His Family, 3rd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1985)).

The main point I think I got from this is that despite efforts of censorship, it can be very difficult to contain a cultural artefact from organic means of distribution.

This links to the other example in music which came to mind. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1983 record ‘Relax’ is often received today as a staple of 80s pop music. It appears in the soundtracks of many films such as the recent Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) and had featured as a contestant song in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in 2014 – though a possibly more critical use of the song comes from 2014’s Pride.

Electrify001, Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax (Original 7″ Version) ((P) 1983) [YouTube video], 21 August 2014 <youtube.com/watch?v=Pcjb659h6jM> [accessed 23 January 2019]

What is not so well-known about this song is that it was banned by the BBC in 1984 following Mike Reeds refusals to air it due to its ‘overtly obscene’ lyrics. (BBC News, ‘Banned Frankie Tops Charts’, BBC, 6 October 2000 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/959284.stm> [accessed 23 January 2019]). The song’s music video was also banned as it depicts an erotic orgy. Yet, the banning of the song only increased its popularity.

How was homosexuality documented in the 1980s?

  • Riddled with censorship/debates on censorship
  • Anglo-American context, AIDS
  • Honing the idea that censorship has been a prevalent force throughout history to this specific cultural moment
  • We’ve decided to look at this in popular culture/prominent examples in music and visual art and how they have entertained interest in the topic in politically and in news media.
  • Censorship often has the opposite effect which is why it is important to look at pop culture.
  • How are these cultural artefacts received today? Was their censorship effective? What did the censorship affect them/change them?