On May 6, 2011, 50 Americans—one from each state—were showcased in an attempt to shed light on that foundation of all things America: freedom of expression. Without outside influence, participants aged 21 to 106 were exposed to the art of the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, frequently cited for his most controversial works. Then, from the over 2,000 Mapplethorpe images, each was asked to select one photograph that spoke to him or her personally. The exhibition, called simply “50 Americans,” was shown at the Sean Kelly Gallery, in New York, through June 18, and brought Mapplethorpe’s work back to its original essence: existing first as a visceral, emotional reaction to an idea. Through Vanity Fair pages, photographer Bruce Weber, editor Ingrid Sischy, and singer Jake Shears—whose careers and lives have been touched by the work of the controversial artist—shared their memories and thoughts on his legacy.
Monty, business owner, 31. Fairfield, Iowa.
Monty did not know of Mapplethorpe’s work prior to this project.
“I am a fan of classical and medieval/Renaissance art, history, and culture. The composition of this image draws elements from these time periods. It is clear that Mapplethorpe studied and was himself a master of the human form. He drew much inspiration from classical and Renaissance works and images … This image of Lisa posed in dramatic midstride of launching a spear or javelin captures the dynamic ideal form of this action.”
What does this image mean to you? “To me this image expresses classical feminine strength and beauty. The pose draws within me much correlation to figures from classical Greek myth such as the goddesses Diana or Athena, or an Amazonian warrior. The surf-and-sand setting evokes a tie to Aphrodite/Venus, who arose out of the ocean. Classical inspirations but expressed more clearly and vividly with modern dynamism and depth of form.”
How, if at all, has participating in this project changed your opinion of Mapplethorpe’s work? “I consider many of his images to be exceptional. He had a master’s eye for form, lighting, shading, and color.”