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Found In Curation:
Sofia Coppola’s Robert Mapplethorpe


Gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac has a long history of collaborating with fellow creative types to showcase the work of Robert Mapplethorpe—Hedi Slimane and avant-garde director Robert Wilson among them. For his latest coup, the groundbreaking impresario—who has been showing Mapplethorpe’s work for decades—has brought a new light into the fold: Sofia Coppola and Robert Mapplethorpe.

For the new show, Coppola presents the photographer from her own perspective, bringing to light some lesser-known images. “When I was going through Robert Mapplethorpe’s archive at the [Mapplethorpe] Foundation, selecting the photographs for the show, it was interesting to discover images I didn’t know of his,” Coppola said. “For example, it was the first time I saw that he had done sweet portraits of children. It was a side of his work that was completely new to me.” Below, speaks with Ropac about Coppola and the unseen side of Mapplethorpe.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Curated by Sofia Coppola, runs through January 7, 2012, at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, 7 rue Debelleyme, Paris,

Tell me about the decision to present Mapplethorpe’s work through the lens of another artist.
Together with the Mapplethorpe Foundation, we decided that one way to look at his work was to ask different personalities from the creative world to curate an exhibition. In 2005, we asked Hedi Slimane to curate a show in our Paris gallery. His own passion for photography brought him close to Mapplethorpe’s aesthetics, allowing him to revisit the work in an intimate manner. In 2006, we asked Robert Wilson to curate an exhibition for the Salzburg gallery; Bob had known Mapplethorpe and shared a close friendship and artistic dialogue. Bob’s show originated from his very unique experience of being photographed by Mapplethorpe, which influenced his selection as it was comprised solely of portraits, offering the viewpoint of someone on the other side of the lens.

And why choose Sofia for this new exhibition?
When I saw Lost in Translation, certain images and framing made me think that it could be incredible to bring these two creative universes together.

What aspect of Mapplethorpe’s work is highlighted in this exhibition?
Sofia made her selection of photographs from the Mapplethorpe archives at the Foundation in New York. She has chosen a totally different perspective, one that is probably more contemplative and not so straight on, somehow more intuitive. In fact, the idea of these curated shows is to present Mapplethorpe’s work in a less academic light. She will include many of his still-life flower photographs, but has also selected some lesser-known portraits of children and animals. These will be punctuated by photographs of landscapes, which may recall scenes from a film.

These images aren’t the ones we typically associate with Mapplethorpe, which tend to be more provocative and, often, homoerotic.
Mapplethorpe’s work implies a certain sexual aesthetic that Sofia has chosen not to present in this show, so she will definitely show a different side to the artist’s work through her selection, which will go beyond the obvious.

How do you feel about Mapplethorpe’s legacy nearly 30 years after you first showcased his work?
I was very proud to show his work in Salzburg in the eighties. Mapplethorpe’s career underwent an incredible transformation from the Robert Mapplethorpe I met back then, whose work was very underground, to his first photographs being purchased by an important museum as the Guggenheim, to being considered an artist who largely contributed to positioning photography as an art form in its own right and, ultimately, to becoming one of the major artists of the twentieth century.

Photo: Marisa Berenson, 1983 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg