The core hides the true essence. More so in the case of an artwork–what makes the pages of catalogues filled up with essays or museums packed with guests is that “substance” that resides beneath the tangible part of a work. So much of what separates a real art aficionado from a passerby is that capability to analyze the work beyond the materialistically given “oh-I-could-do-that-too” stage of the artwork.
Like artworks, the lives we live in are also piled up with layers. We are in some ways coded with tags that are usually the outcomes of our most observable features or personalities–say promiscuous, neurotic or simply, weird. Sean Kelly Gallery’s newly opened Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition titled Sinners and Saints offers a hands-on compare and contrast analysis within Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre of how we separate and unite in many seen and unseen modes in essence.
Having a unique style that can impose palpable sexuality to a simple gently leaning white flower as much as a Depeche Mode song (take another look at the title of this article), Mapplethorpe photographed sex masters, ballerinas, downtown darlings, kids and plants with that same savage gracefulness throughout his career. This exhibition, which is composed of Mapplethorpe’s dually hung photographic work, paired based on certain connections one artwork carries to the other, imbues the walls of Sean Kelly Gallery with a dark hospitality.
Photographs of nude bodies, flowers or Greek sculptures are posed against one another without a definitive conclusion or hierarchy of what’s good, bad or ugly. The back of a muscular man sitting upside down is placed next to a cactus flower or a female figure baring her chest by gently opening her robe is paired with a male doing the opposite, spreading a giant fabric to put his head inside in order to hide himself.
Vulgar and noble, rough and frail, lofty and vile all meld, blend and infuse until none makes sense on its own and bring out that hidden level beneath the initial layer. Amongst these pairs, one especially stands out, summarizing the whole harmony–two identical human silhouettes, one fully covered with a white cloth and the other with the same cloth but in black. Beneath the surface they are both the same, but on the outside, one carries the purity of the white while the other holds on to the darkness of the black. At the end of it, can anything else be different and same at the same time as much as black and white can?