Mapplethorpe’s Muses - Andy Warhol

In his photographs, Mapplethorpe highlighted something serene and almost saintly in Warhol's final years
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Robert Mapplethorpe: Andy Warhol, 1986. All photographs (c) Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation Inc
Robert Mapplethorpe: Andy Warhol, 1986. All photographs (c) Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation Inc

In 1969, Robert Mapplethorpe dropped out of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, moved to the Chelsea hotel in Manhattan, and began to frequent Max’s Kansas City, the bar and restaurant popular with the city’s art crowd. Soon he came into contact with members of Andy Warhol’s Factory, such as Gerard Malanga, Danny Fields, and Candy Darling. 

In 1972, at the beginning of his photographic career, Mapplethorpe contributed some Polaroids to a group show at the Gotham Book Mart, which also featured works by Warhol. In 1983, near the peak of his career, Mapplethorpe began to create a series of portraits of Warhol; Warhol returned the favour, producing portraits of Mapplethorpe in return. 

This slow progression from acquaintance to confidant and collaborator, as outlined in the chronology section of our newly updated and revised Robert Mapplethorpe book, the most comprehensive survey of the photographer’s work ever published, would lead you to believe that the two ended their lives as firm friends. But it isn’t quite as simple as that. 

Mapplethorpe was eighteen years Warhol’s junior, and looked up to the pop artist when he first relocated to Manhattan. As the photographer’s great friend Patti Smith put it in her autobiography, “Robert often said he knew Andy's game, and felt that if he could talk to him, Andy would recognise him as an equal."

 

Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait, 1980
Robert Mapplethorpe, self-portrait, 1980

It’s unclear whether he ever gained that recognition of parity from the Pope of Pop. Nevertheless, he did capture something of Warhol that even Andy himself missed. 

"Andy’s attitude toward the boy he used to call a creep softened considerably," Colacello recalls. "In the 1980s they did each other’s portrait. Robert turned Andy into a saint, his white wig encircled by a glowing halo cutout."

This calm, serene portrayal of Warhol stands in contrast to the sparky, and sometimes divisive figure often conjured up by Andy’s own work. Mapplethorpe only outlived Warhol by a little over two years, yet it was long enough for the photographer to reflect Warhol’s later-life peacefulness. 

"I think he was finally becoming much more human somehow and he was voicing what he really thought as opposed to what people would react to,” Mapplethorpe said of Warhol in a BBC documentary, aired in March 1988. “I think that was sort of one thing that I was really shocked about, that he died at a moment when I think he was finally sort of feeling comfortable somehow.”

 

Robert Mapplethorpe

To see more of Mapplethorpe’s pictures of Warhol, as well as much more besides, get a copy of our new book, Robert Mapplethorpe. It is a revised and updated edition of the most comprehensive survey published of Mapplethorpe's photography. Edited by Mark Holborn, with an introduction by Andrew Sullivan and a poem by Patti Smith, this hardback book comes in an elegant yet durable slipcase, preserving the beautiful, difficult images, for decades to come. Want to go further with Robert Mapplethorpe? Check out more of his photographs at Artspace.


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