New York

Untitled (Jay Johnson, London), 1973, black-and-white Polaroid, 4 1/4 x 3 1/4".

Untitled (Jay Johnson, London), 1973, black-and-white Polaroid, 4 1/4 x 3 1/4".

New York

“Polaroids: Mapplethorpe”

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
May 3–September 14, 2008

Curated by Sylvia Wolf

In her essay for the publication accompanying the Whitney's upcoming presentation of Robert Mapplethorpe's Polaroid work, curator Sylvia Wolf illuminates the infamous artist's “lifelong passion for using the camera to penetrate appearances.” If the metaphor seems too perfect, given Mapplethorpe's best-known, hypersexual subject matter and allusions, its valences nonetheless acquire unexpected subtlety in this exhibition, which focuses on an underexamined early body of work. Bringing together roughly one hundred Polaroids produced between 1970 and 1975 (many being shown for the first time), the selective survey evidences Mapplethorpe in the making. Here already are the artist's most persistent tropes: faces, flowers, and phalli. Yet these are marked with a tender eye, no less “penetrating” but nonetheless surprisingly fleeting, sometimes even shy.