The Museo Novecento is paying tribute to one of the 20th-century’s greatest photographers, Robert Mapplethorpe (New York, 1946-89), in an original comparison with works by Wilhelm von Gloeden (Wismar, 1856-1931) from a selection of photographs from the Archivio Alinari. Forty years after the great exhibition of 1983 at the Palazzo delle Cento Finestre, which introduced Mapplethorpe’s work to Florence, the images by the famous photographer are returning to the city for a project organized in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and Fondazione Alinari per la Fotografia.
Curated by Sergio Risaliti, director of the Museo Novecento, with Eva Francioli and Muriel Prandato, the exhibition is the museum’s second major photography show. Hosted on the first and second floors of the cultural space in piazza Santa Maria Novella, Beauty and Desire draws on a substantial body of works, highlighting Mapplethorpe’s intense artistic output. It emphasises the connection between his oeuvre and classicism as well as his sculptural approach to the medium of photography, clearly visible in his study of the male and female nude, in addition to his still lifes, where a sculptor’s vision and sensitivity equates bodies with objects. Starting from this focus, a comparison is drawn between Robert Mapplethorpe’s work and a number of photographs dating back to the late 19th and early 20th century from the Alinari Archives. Among these, some images by Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, one of the pioneers of staged photography and a point of reference for some of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, take on special importance. One of the distinctive features of the atmosphere that brings von Gloeden’s compositions to life is precisely the nod to the past, conceived as an inexhaustible reservoir of subjects and inspiration in a unique style that still makes him an icon today.
The exhibition draws on around 50 photographs selected from hundreds of Mapplethorpe’s works. These are divided into thematic sections, making it possible to focus on Mapplethorpe’s relationship with antiquity, his passion for the masters who preceded him such as von Gloeden and the Alinari brothers, his close understanding, if not affinity, with Michelangelo Buonarroti, from whom Mapplethorpe drew inspiration, also thanks to the sculptural photographs taken by the Alinari brothers, capturing the aesthetic sense of athletic poses, and particularly the compression of restrained muscular masses ready to explode with enormous energy.
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