ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE at Olga Korper Gallery (17 Morrow), today (Thursday, September 8) to October 1, reception 6-9 pm today. 416-538-8220. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Sixteen years after his death, art history is still sorting out the place of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe . His beautiful, sexually charged black-and-white photography recalls the 70s and 80s yet seems neither dated nor retro.
The Olga Korper show has 38 large, well-chosen limited-edition prints produced during his lifetime, all in splendid off-white frames. Extraordinary compositions and contrasts bring the nudes, still lifes and portraits of the famous to life. The magic gaze of Mapplethorpe's lens can render virtually anything erotic.
The photo Livingston zones in on a man's upper chest and throat. A master at depicting masculinity, Mapplethorpe captures the shadows rippling in minimal light across his subject's muscular form and textured skin.
In Legs/Melody, a shapely pair of crossed legs in fishnet stockings stands out from a black background. Playful use of depth of field leaves some upper thigh out of focus, suggesting the viewer's close proximity.
Anyone can make a flower look sexy, but Mapplethorpe didn't restrict himself to floral salaciousness. Extending the same gaze to a pair of hairy coconuts draped in fabric, he coyly turns them into a magnificently lit scrotum.
His portraits celebrate the male or female form while also intimately depicting their subjects' character. Among others, there's a fabulous shot of sculptor Louise Nevelson drawn up to her full, scary height, and a few engaging looks at Mapplethorpe's close friend Patti Smith.
Unfortunately, this selection does not convey a sense of Mapplethorpe's complete oeuvre. Missing are the notorious sado-masochistic works that incurred the wrath of conservative groups in the U.S. The decision to exclude the hardcore to avoid misrepresenting the artist as shock-value-dependent seems misguided.
Rather, an overview of Mapplethorpe should include all his themes without prejudice, or fear of it.