Inbox: Robert Mapplethorpe

Apr 19–May 22, 2016


Installation view of Inbox: Robert Mapplethorpe at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn
  • MoMA, Floor 1, Museum Lobby Museum Lobby

Raised in Queens and educated at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Mapplethorpe came to photography when he purchased a Polaroid camera with the intention of incorporating his own pictures into his collage and assemblage works. He quickly transitioned into pure photography, seeking aesthetic precision while taking on sometimes controversial subject matter, including issues of gender, sexuality, and desire. Just months after his death from AIDS-related illness in 1989, his work became central in debates around pornography, censorship, and public funding for the arts.

The works on view here are part of a group of Mapplethorpe photographs recently acquired by the Museum and include examples of his explorations of the human form from the 1970s to the late 1980s. In both early and late self-portraits, Mapplethorpe isolates parts of his body, including his lithe, outstretched arm (1976) or his furrowed brow and piercing eyes (1988). In other works, Mapplethorpe gestures toward the ideal beauty of antiquity; his models assume the poses of classical sculptures and studio lights emphasize their flawless skin and musculature. As he declared in 1988, “My whole point is
to transcend the subject…go beyond the subject somehow, so that the composition, the lighting, all around, reaches a certain point of perfection.”

  • This installation is part of Inbox.
  • Licensing

    If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

    MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

    If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


    This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].