Exhibit | Warhol & Mapplethorpe: Guise & Dolls
New York City in the 1970s and ‘80s was a deliciously decadent time and place where art, gender, and sexuality came together in a miasma of creative energies. As the gay rights movement ushered in a new era, a new sense of expression took hold as gender became an area ripe for exploration. The ideas of masculine, feminine, and androgynous began to capture the imagination of visual and performing artists. Musicians lead the way, as crossdressing came out of the closet and groups like the New York Dolls took advantage of it’s curious effect on their female fans. It was an era of gender fluidity and sexual freedom which held to a deep abiding sense of “anything goes” as bath houses and clubs like Plato’s Retreat flourished in the city.
Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe were two of the most significant artists in New York at this time. As portrait artists, both engaged with gender, identity, sexuality, beauty, performance, and disguise in their lives and their work, revealing the intricacies and nuances of the many-splendored personalities that populated the city then. Each artist focused on their subjects as a means to discovering their truth in a complex series of questions that directly and comfortably challenge the viewer.
“Warhol & Mapplethorpe: Guise & Dolls” is the first major exhibition to pair the work of these artists. Now on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, through January 24, 2016, the exhibition features approximately 100 paintings, photographs, Polaroids, prints, videos, and pieces of ephemera. The show focuses on several prominent bodies of work from each artist’s oeuvre, including Warhol’s “Ladies and Gentlemen” series (1975), Christopher Makos’s “Altered Images” series of Warhol in drag, Mapplethorpe’s photographs of Patti Smith, Lisa Lyon, Bob Colacello, Candy Darling, and Grace Jones.
The works selected for the show complement each other beautifully, creating an exquisite tension felt in the silent dialogue between the images. With these works get a glimpse into the artists’ worlds, into the people that came before their cameras an inspired their heads to turn. There’s a sense of knowing that goes beyond words, one that is the métier of the best portrait artists. It is the ability to capture and convey that person’s aura.
As Warhol observed, “I think “aura” is something that only somebody else can see, and they only see as much of it as they want to. It’s all in the other person’s eyes. You can only see an aura on people you don’t know very well or don’t know at all…. When you just see somebody on the street, they can really have an aura. But then when they open their mouth, there goes the aura. ‘Aura’ must be until you open your mouth.”
And this is the beauty of great portraits: never a word shall be spoken. “Warhol & Mapplethorpe: Guise & Dolls” demonstrates how effective (and beguiling) such silence is.
“Warhol & Mapplethorpe: Guise & Dolls” is on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, now through January 24, 2016.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.