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R. Mapplethorpe Polaroids On Display at Northwestern University Museum

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January 2009

Largely unknown works by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe are on view at the Chicago area this winter in a major exhibition at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.

“Polaroids: Mapplethorpe,” on view in the Block Museum’s Alsdorf Gallery from 13 January - 5 April 2009, explores Robert Mapplethorpe’s creative development through his use of instant photography.


Mapplethorpe (1946–89) emerged in the late 1970s as one of the most celebrated and controversial photographers of his time. The artist had not shown an interest in photography before 1970, when he began to use a Polaroid camera to make pictures for collages.

Enthralled by the medium, he took some 1,500 Polaroids during the next six years, exploring the subjects that would dominate his later work: portraiture, flowers, sexuality, and the classical beauty of the human body.

The photographs on display in this exhibition are marked by a spontaneity that is inherent to instant photography and unlike the carefully composed images of Mapplethorpe’s later, more famous pictures.

Featuring more than 90 photographs, “Polaroids: Mapplethorpe” is organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York. Some of the photographs in this exhibition may not be suitable for all audiences.
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