|THE COMPLETE FLOWERS|
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation is pleased to present The Complete Flowers on the occasion of the artist's sixtieth birthday. It is the third monograph of Mapplethorpe's flowers produced by the Foundation during its eighteen-year history. It contains all known examples of the artist's thorough exploration of the subject, from the Polaroids- of the early 1970s to the elegant and mature dye-transfer color works which he finished only weeks before he died on March 9, 1989.
The text and a carefully chosen selection of full-sized plates are followed by an illustrated index of all of Mapplethorpe's flower images, with a thumbnail image of each. This volume is intended to be comprehensive with respect to the flower works, although it is not meant to constitute a catalogue raisonné in the strict sense of the term, in that it excludes certain flower images (for example, images where flowers are combined with portraits or with objects where the flowers themselves are not the sole or dominant part of the composition). It is, however, "complete" within the artist's and therefore the foundation's, definition of "flower works."
While thanks and acknowledgements appear elsewhere in this publication, it is pertinent to make a few additional comments. This is our first book published and distributed by teNeues Publishing Group, about which we are enthusiastic. Hendrik teNeues has worked with us for more than fifteen years on many other projects and has come to understand the nuances of the artist's works. Dimitri Levas, a charter member of our board of directory, and a friend and frequent collaborator with the artist, is once again our editor and the publication's designer, bringing to this volume what only he can contribute from his long experience of working personally with Mapplethorpe, specifically on the development and creation of many of the works contained in this presentation. We are also especially happy to publish the essay by Herbert Muschamp, the noted author and critic, who is Robert Mapplethorpe's contemporary, who knew him personally, and who experienced the New York world of the artist first-hand.
We hope that you, the reader, will share in the joy which the experience of presenting The Complete Flowers has brought to all of us.
Michael Ward Stout
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Americans have become compulsive about constructing monuments to the dead. We are not as focused as we might be on visions of resurrection. An Old Pagan would find this perplexing and even sacrilegious. "Okay, you've got death down pat," the Old Pagan would say."You've really nailed it. But when are you going to get around to what comes next?"
Now. Here. This comprehensive collection of Robert Mapplethorpe's fiower photographs would bring the joy of recognition to any Old Pagan's soul. In a season rife with reminders of loss, these pictures call to mind an ancient depiction of the life cycle, as it was understood throughout the Mediterranean when the Mediterranean was the world.
The dying-and-rising god had many names—Dionysus, Osiris, Attis, and Adonis are among the best known, but at Eleusis, the most important center for indoctrination into the ancient mystery cults, two goddesses occupied the center of the ceremony: Demeter and Persephone; mother and daughter. Around them revolved the belief that life is indestructible; death is merely a preamble to rebirth on a higher level of being. It was a mortal named Orpheus who showed that this higher level is sometimes called art. His death heralds the rite of spring.
C-r-r-ack! A Pagan rite of spring - not the Easter-bonnet variety, but Igor Stravinsky's propulsive breaking of the earth as the force of life rushes back to the surface in countries tender shoots. Mapplethorpe's flowers, in choosing to be born, have already made cause to be cut and die. But they will have their moment of glory in the studio's artificial sun.
The impression conveyed by the collected fiower photographs differs appreciably from the single image projected by each individuai picture. The latter tends toward shibui, the spare Japanese aesthetic that was diffused in the West in the 1950s and 60s, chiefly by home-decorating magazines. Growing up then, a boy of precocious talent would have absorbed shibui as a language emblematic of elegance. Against the backdrop of the post-war period's surging material affiuence, he might have been tempted by visual spareness—a technique for channeling ambitious drives toward a piace of repose, a form of personal redemption.
Collectively, though, the photographs project an abundance as startling as the material wealth that caused the rest of the world to gaze upon the United States in horrified wonder. Was it from cut fiowers, that archetype of ephemeral splendor, that our post-war industrialists acquired the techniques of planned obsolescence that stoked the national economy in those booming years? Not likely. Yet you can appreciate that it would have been nearly impossible for an American child of that time to do more than flirt with the multiple renunciations demanded by Eastern philosophy. For each of us, there had to be a new shibui model every year, with a dazzling array of options to choose from: two-tone paint-job, sporty hubcaps, arabesques of chrome, reclining seats, heated glove compartments, and leatherette trim. Why settle for less than a fully accoutered, four-on-the-fioor Shibui de Ville—or for a single sten in a plain ceramic cylinder—when you live in the land of Burpee seeds?
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