AIDS claimed Robert Mapplethorpe in March 1989 when he was just 42 years old. He became famous for his striking black and white photographs, many explicitly homoerotic with an S&M edge. Whenever I hear or read Mapplethorpe's name three things come to mind: Patti Smith, the photograph "Man in Polyester Suit" and Cincinnati, Ohio.
- Rock singer Patti Smith & Mapplethorpe were romantically involved as young adults and lived together in NYC from the late 1960s to mid-70s (when he realized he was gay).
- "Man in Polyester Suit" is one of Mapplethorpe's most famous photographs. It shows a black man wearing a suit with his rather large, uncut penis hanging out of the fly of his pants. It's the image I remember most after viewing a Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Whitney Museum in 1988. And since it was life-sized it really grabbed your attention.
- In 1990 Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center and its director went on trial on charges of obscenity for organizing a Mapplethorpe exhibit that included some of his explicit homoerotic images (e.g. Mapplethorpe shoving the handle of a whip up his ass). They were found not guilty. Although thei lawsuit was about just a few photos in the exhibit, in actuality Mapplethorpe's body of work covered much more than gay S&M.
Although many books about Mapplethorpe have been published, the documentary Black White + Gray reveals the life he had with his partner Sam Wagstaff, whose financial support and social connections were instrumental in boosting Mapplethorpe's career.