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(Fragment) Ken Moody and Robert Sherman, 1984. ©Robert Mappelthorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe at Kiasma 0

An express interview with Museum Director of Kiasma - Pirkko Siitari

Robert Mapplethorpe 
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
March 13 – September 13, 2015

The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) lived a life of passion in the New York underground and rock scenes of the 70s and 80s. That passion also made its way into his art.

Several art-scene authorities have curated Mapplethorpe – director Sofia Coppola, artists David Hockney and Cindy Sherman, and many others. Every curator makes a new interpretation, a different selection, and has a different point of view. Now, arriving in Helsinki from Paris, the exhibition is being curated by Jérôme Neutres from Paris, along with Director Pirkko Siitari and Chief Curator Marja Sakari, both from Kiasma.

Consisting of more than 250 works, the retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma offers a broad overview of the key periods of Mapplethorpe’s career, from early Polaroids to the portraits and color photographs of flowers from the 80s. Thematically, the show ranges from sculptural nudes to portraits and self-portraits, from still-lifes to erotic subjects. In their aspiration of becoming perfect icons, Mapplethorpe’s pictures blend beauty and eroticism with pain, pleasure and death. The exhibition will feature both iconic and lesser known works.

Self-Portrait, 1980. ©Robert Mappelthorpe Foundation

The Museum Director of Kiasma, Pirkko Siitari, was generous enough to answer a few questions prepared by

Why is it important to show Robert Mapplethorpe in Finland right now?

Robert Mapplethorpe is an internationally renowned photographer whose photographs, although solidly anchored in their time, are also universal and topical even today. 

In addition, Mapplethorpe’s work raises questions about sexuality, gay-culture, friendship and tolerance – all of them important topics of our times. In Finland, we just voted for the gender-neutral marriage law, and the discussion on human rights in this context was lively.

How will this retrospective exhibition differ from the Mapplethorpe exhibition that was held at Stockholm's Photography Museum in 2011?

This is a completely different exhibition, and it is being done in co-operation with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and the Grand Palais, Paris; it was originally curated by Jérôme Neutres, Conseiller du président de la Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand palais.

We have the unique opportunity to present this high-profile exhibition, and to learn more about the art and life of one of the most important photographic artists of our time. This show at Kiasma highlights Mapplethorpe’s work on an unprecedented scale in Finland. Before this exhibition, the last showing of Mapplethorpe’s work in Finland took place in the 1990s, at the Turku Art Museum.

Ajitto, 1981. ©Robert Mappelthorpe Foundation

Are there any Mapplethorpe references and influences to be found in Finnish photography?

If we think about the human body as subject matter, it certainly is a very popular topic in Finnish photography, but in a different way. In Finnish photography, the human body is frequently presented as a part of the landscape or nature, and the questions which are dealt with are very different in these genres.

If terms of other kinds of references, the Finnish artist Tom of Finland might have influenced Mapplethorpe. And as a matter of fact, we are showing a couple of his drawings from our collection concurrently with the Mapplethorpe exhibition.

What will be the spatial layout of this exhibition? Is there any specially planned scenography?

The Kiasma museum has a very special type of architecture, and this exhibition is being designed for our spaces by the architect Jussi Ukkonen.

How would you characterize the overall feeling / atmosphere of the exhibition?

The exhibition is a strong experience; it has a taste of life and a sense of dignity, which comes from how the artist has photographed people with great interest and respect.

What is the main message about Robert Mapplethorpe and his art that you would like to deliver?

That he is a Classic who is still very much relevant today.

Self-Portrait, 1988. ©Robert Mappelthorpe Foundation