new-york

Robert Mapplethorpe

Whitney Museum of American Art

A certain smart elegance—intense but never forced, aggressive, on the verge of being cloying but rarely falling over into sentiment or pretense—has always been the hallmark of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. No doubt it is this quality, in part the product of an extreme attention to craft (evidenced above all in Mapplethorpe’s frames, themselves exquisite objects, and in some cases even becoming the work itself) that has made him so successful working for magazines selling just this kind of hip elegance. In one of the catalogue essays for this show, Ingrid Sischy describes Mapplethorpe as quintessentially a society photographer, using “society” in a general sense; whether one grants his work this wider relevance, Mapplethorpe is certainly a worthy successor to such earlier purveyors of elegance as Robert Demachy and Cecil Beaton. Whether depicting a languidly drooping lily (in a dramatic,

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