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October 20, 2017
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Robert Mapplethorpe installation at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris. (Photo courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg. Photographer: Philippe Servent)
Katherine Cebrian. All Mapplethorpe Works
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
Used by Permission. Courtesy Galerie
Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg.

The hippest crowd in Paris gathered at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac on November 25th. Actor Stephen Dorff was chatting to musician Thomas Mars; designer Charlotte Bialas sipped a drink next to the editor of iD Magazine. Rumours abounded of Patti Smith showing up. And of course, Sofia Coppola was there, pretty and petite in a signature print blouse, to present the show she curated of Robert Mapplethorpe's lesser known black and white works.

Coppola selected the images from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation in New York and private collectors. She was chosen to act as curator by the gallery owner himself, Thaddaeus Ropac, who has been a large supporter of Mapplethorpe's work since the 80's. It's not the first time a celebrity artist has curated a Mapplethorpe show for his gallery: "Eye to Eye" was curated by Cindy Sherman back in 2003, and David Hockney also had a go in 2005.

Coppola seems to have taken a much more feminine approach to Mapplethorpe's notoriously masculine, sexually aggressive work: she has selected gentler images of children, animals and nature in contrast to the hardcore images of sadomasochism, porn stars and gay sex Mapplethorpe is better known for. In fact, there is only one penis to be found the entire show, and the flowers that are represented are not as overtly sexual as Mapplethorpe's typically phallic bulbs. "I guess [being a woman] comes out in what I've selected here," Copplola admitted. But why black and white, when Mapplethorpe worked so well with colour, too? "He was a genius with light, and I think the black and white works show that best," she explained.

Kitten. All Mapplethorpe Works 
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. 
Used by Permission. Courtesy Galerie 
Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg.

Photography has long been a passion of  Coppola's, as has fashion: she studied photography at school, interned at Chanel at the tender age of 15, has been a muse and model for Marc Jacobs, and created her own clothing line, Milk Fed, with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon. Her interest in fashion may have had some influence in her selection of female portraiture in this show, none of which would be out of place in an issue of Vogue. There's Paloma Picasso, regal in pearls; model Marisa Berenson, whose back is exposed in a subtly sensual pose, and Katherine Cebrian, a vision of turbaned elegance.

Growing up in California may have also been behind Ms. Coppola's decision to include so many of Mapplethorpe's relatively rare landscapes, such as Crashing Waves and Palm Tree. Scanning the entire show, it seems the images can be read more as a reflection on Coppola's own taste, interests and history than as a retrospective of Mapplethorpe's work, but what she has achieved here is important - she has shifted the common perception of Robert Mapplethorpe from that of a sex obsessed, self-centred, sadistic bad boy to that of a man who also adored children, appreciated nature and was gentle with animals. It may not be so hip, but it's probably closer to the truth.


Robert Mapplethorpe curated by Sofia Coppola is at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac until January 7th, 2012.

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