Ever the curator of his art, Mapplethorpe selected around 1,964 images to represent his total body of work, issued as limited-edition prints. (Prints of nearly all of these are now jointly owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)
As Mapplethorpe approached the end of his life, he revisited and perfected the themes on which he had based his career: portraiture, classicizing nudes, and still lifes. He also produced an unforgettable self-portrait grasping a skull-topped cane as if facing his own mortality.
In 1988 he established the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to steward his own work into the future, provide support for photography-related projects at the institutional level, and fund AIDS/HIV medical research.
Just months before he died, he achieved the professional validation of two major retrospectives—an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art and a multivenue tour organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Mapplethorpe died on March 9, 1989, at age forty-two. He did not, therefore, witness the debates about federal arts funding triggered by certain sexually explicit photographs in the ICA exhibition.
Never afraid to offend or break rules, Mapplethorpe expanded the notion of what is possible in art. He stands as an example to emerging photographers who continue to test the boundaries of acceptability.
He shaped his legacy...
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