AN INCONGRUOUS, COMPARATIVE EXHIBITION BETWEEN TWO ARTISTS WHO EXPLORED GENRE-SPECIFIC NARRATIVE, MAPPLETHORPE +MUNCH IS AN IMPROBABLE, YET SENSICAL EXPLORATION OF THE PARALLELS BETWEEN THE TWO ARTISTS AND THEIR ARTISTIC WORLDS. THE EXHIBITION’S CURATORIAL STRUCTURE IS THEMATIC RATHER THAN SEQUENTIAL, AND IT IS THIS STRUCTURE WHICH ACCOUNTS FOR AN IN-DEPTH AND STRIKING DIALOGUE BETWEEN A CATALOGUE OF OVER 140 WORKS, INCLUDING MUNCH’S “MADONNA (1895)” AND MAPPLETHORPE’S “SELF-PORTRAIT” (1988)
Stylistically speaking, the work of Edvard Munch lends itself to the provocation of Symbolism, as well as its sufficient 20th century modern counterpart, Expressionism. Throughout his artistic career, there is a poetry between the self and the duplicated effects of melancholia – all the more expressed in the genre of self-portraiture. The parallel is then extended to the oeuvre of Robert Mapplethorpe’s monochromatic portrait photography, as depictions of himself were prolifically explored in the guise of different personae. They provide what seems to be a journalistic catalogue of the two artists, and in turn highlight an underlying modicum toward mere mortality.
The exhibition segments into thematic sections the parallels between the two artists seamlessly – from portraits, self-portraits, nudes and expressions of sexuality. They are represented side-by-side, in a mirror-like duality, both seeming to exist as a pair creating an overarching whole. It is especially pertinent throughout the exploration of nudes within this exhibition – (as both artists worked extensively at claiming and reclaiming this genre) that the nude portrays an allusion to a more arresting fascination with sexuality. The work of Mapplethorpe particularly, highlights through the genre of the nude, antithesising viewpoints concerning gender and the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity respectively. All the more, Mapplethorope’s then controversial tone is reflected in a more ambiguous approach to Munch’s female nudes – their depiction a more romanticised, languid and painterly visualisation attentive to Classical counterparts.
Although what may seem an unlikely duality at first, MAPPLETHORPE + MUNCH is effective in achieving its ambition. There is a wonderful simplicity in its drawing of comparative links without detriment to the work’s power. The balance throughout the exhibition is all the more as nuanced as Munch’s examination between self and suffering.