Mapplethorpe + Munch


While in Oslo I visited the “Mapplethorpe + Munch” exhibition being held in Oslo’s Munch Museum. The show juxtaposes photos by the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and artwork by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.

When I read about the exhibition, I was skeptical if the concept would work. After all, Munch was an expressionist painter working with bright colours and lights, while Mapplethorpe worked in black and white, subtle lighting and formal arrangements, no matter the subject matter. Plus, a century separates the lives of the two artists, a century of shifting moral values and understanding of human sexuality.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that, indeed, the concept worked very well. While at times Munch’s bright paintings did jar with Mapplethorpe’s somber photos, other art work by Munch (the drawings, printings and the woodcuts) did instead complement the photos. Thematically,  there were a lot more similarities than might be obvious. Both artists covered a range of the same topics: self portraiture, an exploration of the nude figure (both male and female), desire (more explicit in Mapplethorpe, but quite present in Munch as well). They both made a living by capturing portraits of famous people, and towards the end of their lives reflected on bodily decay and death.

The show assembles 141 photos by Robert Mapplethorpe, including most of his famous ones, covering all of his short life and career. They range from the flower shots to the portraits of lovers and friends, to the self portraits and the representations of fetishes and sexual (gay) desire and sexuality. This includes a series of photos which some deem pornographic, including the curators; and hence this work was sequestered off in a side room, carrying a warning as to the ‘explicit’ nature of the works. This I found superfluous:  I imagine anyone visiting the show is familiar with Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre,  including the most daring of his work.

There are 95 artworks by Edvard Munch, paintings, drawings and sketches, prints as well as photographs; covering (as mentioned above), pretty much the same terrain as Mapplethorpe’s photos, with maybe the primary difference the focus on desire towards women rather than men (although Mapplethorpe did cover both genders extensively).

The show is on until 29 May, 2016. More information can be found at the Munch Museum’s web site [here].

Artwork depicted: Edvard Munch: Self Portrait, 1895 (left); Robert Mapplethorpe: Self-Portrait, 1988. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation (right)

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