Cindy Sherman, David Hockney, and Hedi Slimane, have all played guest curator for the work of hte late, great photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Now comes the turn of film director Sofia Coppola. In partnership with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac asked the filmmaker to turn curator and delve into the Foundation's vast collection to select a series of images for the gallery's new show. Aligned with precision under the lights of Ropac's Paris space, the photos that Coppola has chosen evoke both emotion and nonchalance colored with fragility.
Having been initiated into photography by her mother, Coppola is herself a passionate collector. She is often inspired by photographs — her own or those of others — to set up her cinematic worlds. The show she has put together suggests a kind of touching, mysterious diary with recurring portraits of solitary women, languid animals, bodies stretched out in the sun, waves and palm trees beaten by the wind, and masterfully sensual floral images. A "Cattleya Orchid" from 1982 — exuberantly white in a light mauve halo — evokes both the history of Mapplethorpe's famous still-lifes and the bittersweet, rose-colored atmosphere of Coppola's own "Virgin Suicides." This rare color print, number five of an edition of six, is priced at €67,990 ($90,670).
"Mapplethorpe was one of the first photographers to number his photos," the gallery's Bénédicte Burrus told ARTINFO France before the opening. "This was part of a process that went beyond photography. Mapplethorpe considered himself more of an artist than a photographer." She pointed out the artist's fastidious use of light in the orchid image, "which pushes us to see more than, for instance, a simple flower." Mapplethorpe started off creating a series of five photographs, then 10 or 15, but never more. In Coppola's show, about a third of the images on view are very rare.
The Mapplethorpe Foundation will use the sales from teh show to fund its mission, which includes supporting AIDS research and offering scholarships to young photographers. The artist founded it himself, ten months before his death in 1989. "I am happy to see that today Mapplethorpe is becoming more and more popular," Dimitri Livas, the Foundation's director, told ARTINFO France. "One of the interesting things about getting older, for me, is to see this changing opinion of his work and of Mapplethorpe himself, who was all too often ignored by institutions or critics during his lifetime, because he was openly gay and had produced, among his other work, pornographic photographs." Livas, who counted Mapplethorpe as one of his best friends, said that he offered Coppola a wide range of photos to choose from. "I didn't skip over the S&M images," he added. "It happens that she has made quite a feminine selection [of photos], quite emotional. I think that she recognized in Robert's work an elegance, a sensitivity, and an innocence that were part of his art and his personality. He was a shy person, but could be capable of bravado." The only overtly sexual image in the show, "Cock and Jeans," reveals a delicate and sentimental eroticism.
The exhibition opens with a 1978 portrait of Patti Smith cutting her hair in a regal posture, priced approximately €20,000 ($26,700). By a lucky coincidence, Patti Smith was performing in Paris just before the show opened. "She came to see a preview of the show and she remembered this photo very well," Bénédicte Burrus said. "She was supposed to sing, and had just taken off the neck brace that she was wearing after a fall from the stage. Her neck was still very stiff, and she had decided at the last minute to emphasize her face by cutting her hair. That's when Mapplethorpe took this shot." This image of Patti Smith facing the lens with a commanding expression is symbolic of Mapplethorpe's art: razor-sharp, proud, and vulnerable at the same time.
"Robert Mapplethorpe, Curated by Sofia Coppola" is on view at Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris, November 25, 2011 to January 7, 2012.