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Review: Robert Mapplethorpe, 'Subject Object Image' at the Alison Jacques Gallery

Robert Mapplethorpe was unquestionably a visionary photographer, pushing the boundaries of his medium while making viewers wrestle their own instincts. ‘Subject Object Image’ at Alison Jaques gives you the rare opportunity to come face-to -face with his work from 1976 to 1989, after his shift from Polaroids.

The exhibition includes many works that are not commonly on display, from still life to portraits. The second room, of exclusively portraits, displays many of his friends and muses, such as Patti Smith and Lisa Lyon. Readers of 'Just Kids' and fanatics of the artists will be delighted to see pictures of Smith and Mapplethorpe in recognisable locations. This room is almost an ode to the art of anatomy. Mapplethorpe's ability to turn people into sculptures was ground breaking and stuns the viewer every time.

Although the exhibition does not contain his more “risqué” works, it is still able to display his ability to make the viewer come to terms with their own prejudices. His portraits are widely known as endeavours to capture perfection in form, but the third exhibition room is an homage to his work with flowers, one of his last muses. His experimentation with flowers displays his finesse in the art form and the ability to create strong visual shapes from organic material. His work with flowers is ingenious, making people embrace eroticism without them realising. Unlike his past works' focus on sexuality, using the bodies of his many subjects, he transposes the same sentiment into a more acceptable and pleasing subject. The exhibition forces one to appreciate his skill and creativity, instead of the most commonly discussed controversies of BDSM and homosexuality associated with him.

His use of shadows and backgrounds to frame the subject is on full display. Jaques’ relationship with the Mapplethorpe Foundation and fascination with the artist makes for an enlightening experience. A deep understanding and admiration for Mapplethorpe's work is clear from the curation, and this exhibition often feels like an attempt to enliven and broaden his reputation. On this count, it succeeds.

'Robert Mapplethorpe: Subject Object Image' is at the Alison Jacques Gallery until January 21st.

Free entry.


Edited by Samuel Blackburn


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